Mississippi State silences Gamecocks in overtime
COLUMBIA -- There were 1.4 seconds left in overtime Wednesday, and a Senior Night game in which South Carolina played well and played tough was tied. Double overtime seemed likely.
Mississippi State's Dee Bost prepared to inbound the ball from the baseline, just to the right of his basket. The Bulldogs' plan called for a lob to 6-11 Arnett Moultrie. But when Brian Bryant set a screen for Moultrie, Bryant noticed two USC defenders moving with Moultrie. Bryant, now open, cut toward Bost, who bounced a pass to him.
Bryant leaned toward the hoop from about six feet away and banked in a one-handed shot as the buzzer sounded, giving the Bulldogs a 69-67 victory.
Colonial Life Arena, rocking moments earlier, fell silent. USC senior Malik Cooke, who relished the thrilling final minutes of regulation by smiling and chatting with Bulldogs players and a referee, looked around in disbelief, eyes wide, holding his arms out, palms up.
"That's what I was pretty much thinking: What happened?" Cooke said later. "I still haven't really processed it yet. I'm sure it'll probably hit me later on tonight.
Despite all the work his offensively challenged team put in while overcoming a 33-26 halftime deficit -- including 12-of-28 shooting in the second half, 6 of 13 on 3-pointers -- Cooke could only swallow the frustration of a loss that dropped USC to 10-19, 2-13 in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gamecocks must win their regular season finale, Saturday at Georgia, just to tie their worst ever SEC record. If they lose, they will finish with two conference wins for the first time since 1985-86 and 20 losses for the fourth time ever. Their record for losses in a season is 21.
As Mississippi State's players celebrated the final basket, Cooke had to wrap his mind around what did -- or, more appropriately, didn't -- occur on the final play.
Before the inbound pass, USC's players were supposed to switch who they guarded in all screening situations. USC coach Darrin Horn said two freshmen didn't switch correctly. That left Bryant open. The only two USC freshmen on the floor for the play were Damien Leonard and Anthony Gill -- one of many youthful mistakes that have bitten the Gamecocks this season.
"I don't know if I have a word to articulate how that one makes you feel," Horn said.
"I hurt for our guys more than anything. It was one of those games where you feel like you deserve to win the game, and they made the last play."
Many USC fans believe Horn should be fired after the season. The paid attendance Wednesday was 7,224 -- the lowest ever among the 80 SEC games held at Colonial Life Arena. Despite fading support, Horn saw Wednesday as a sign of progress for his team, which has one senior and one junior. He called the performance "as well as they have played" this season.
"I don't know if anybody really understands how hard it is to do what our team has been doing," Horn said of USC's resilience in a miserable season. "Nobody is happy with our record. But to keep coming back and playing the way these guys have played ... I just told them we've got to find a way to keep fighting."