GAME NOTES: The first round of the 2013 SEC Tournament will tip off at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday night, as the 13th-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs tangle with the 12th-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks.
The winner will advance to Thursday's second round to square off against fifth-seeded Tennessee.
Frank Martin's first season as head coach of South Carolina got off to an impressive start, as it won 10 of 13 non-conference matchups, but in SEC competition it struggled mightily, finishing up a mere 4-14 after falling on the road at Vanderbilt on March 9, 74-64. Despite the disappointing season, the Gamecocks' 14-17 record marks a four-game improvement from last season's record (10-21).
After starting its SEC slate of games 2-0 back in early January, Mississippi State (9-21, 4-14 SEC) went into a tailspin with 13 consecutive losses, its second-longest conference losing streak in program history. The Bulldogs are carrying a bit of momentum coming into the tournament however, winning two of their last three to close out the regular season, including a 74-71 overtime triumph versus Auburn in the finale.
Mississippi State leads the all-time series, 17-9, The teams split the season series this year, with the Bulldogs winning in Starkville on Jan. 9 (56-54) and the Gamecocks winning in Columbia on March 6 (79-72).
South Carolina found itself down 11 points at the half against Vanderbilt the last time out and could never recover en route to the double-digit loss, as it shot just 35.9 percent from the field. Brenton Williams provided life off the bench with 17 points, Bruce Ellington netted 10 points, and while Michael Carrera was abysmal from the field (0-of-9), he managed to haul in a game-high 13 rebounds. On the season, the Gamecocks surrender more points to their opponents (68.9 ppg) than they score themselves (66.3 ppg), and their offensive attack has been especially poor lately, as they've scored less than their season average in 12 of the last 15 games. After tallying 55 points in the past two contests, Williams has taken the scoring lead with 11.1 ppg, doing so on 41.7 percent from 3-point range. Carrera is in the midst of a solid freshman campaign in the frontcourt, logging 10.0 ppg and 7.3 rpg, while Bruce Ellington brings 9.7 ppg to the mix but on just 33 percent field goal shooting.
Trailing late in its regular-season finale, Mississippi State tied the game up with just 18 seconds left on a Colin Borchert 3-pointer, and it controlled the overtime period to earn the three-point victory. It shot a modest 40.3 percent from the floor, and while its free throw percentage was nothing to brag about (.552), it still managed to outscore Auburn at the line, 16-12. Borchert finished with 20 points and a career-best 13 rebounds, Craig Sword tallied 19 points and six assists, and he had game-winning free throws in overtime, while Fred Thomas and Roquez Johnson netted 10 points apiece. The Bulldogs' impressive offensive performance was out of character, as they pour in a lowly 60.6 ppg, and paired with the SEC's worst scoring defense (69.9 ppg), they sport a scoring margin (-9.3) more than twice as bad as the next-worst team. Sword leads the way with 10.3 ppg but has nearly double the turnovers (119) as he does assists (69). Jalen Steele puts up 10.1 ppg, and Thomas, Johnson, Borchert and Gavin Ware all net between 8.6 and 9.3 ppg.
South Carolina is probably the more talented of the two teams in this matchup, but Mississippi State has come on of late, and if it can continue to get a balanced scoring effort from its young but solid starting five, it'll likely be able to advance against a Gamecocks team who's struggled to put up points lately.
Game Date and Time