STARKVILLE — As counterintuitive as it sounds, it was a switch to zone that stymied the Mississippi State men’s basketball team’s hot shooting.
After a 8-for-15 3-point barrage in the first half and a 22-point surge off the bench from freshman guard Tyson Carter, South Carolina’s defensive switch inspired a 9-0 run in the final five minutes and helped it earn a 77-73 victory at Humphrey Coliseum.
“We couldn’t guard them, so we had to go zone,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “Luckily, we held on for dear life. We knew (Carter) could shoot it, but we couldn’t guard them. We spent the whole game in retreat mode and bad rotations.”
The switch unraveled MSU’s hopes for a first victory against a ranked opponent since 2011 and sent the Bulldogs to 14-10 and 5-7 in the Southeastern Conference.
The run put MSU down by eight with less than three minutes to go and fresh off of two turnovers in the last 45 seconds. MSU’s 19 turnovers tied their team highs for conference play, set in previous losses to Kentucky and Ole Miss.
“I thought we had a couple of turnovers against their zone, one against their press, that led to opportunities for them in that juncture,” MSU coach Ben Howland said. “They had a couple of scramble plays where the ball ended up in their hands; (Justin McKie) hit a big shot off of an offensive rebound that they somehow got to over us.”
Foul trouble bit MSU early, too. The Bulldogs had seven team fouls less than six minutes into the game. South Carolina was 17 of 29 from the free-throw line, while MSU took 12 free throws.
“That’s a factor in the game because typically they average about 25 fouls a game,” Howland said. “This is the second-fewest fouls they’ve committed in a game all year. We didn’t get to the line enough.”
While the free-throw line was not MSU’s asset, the 3-point line was for most of the game: the Bulldogs finished shooting just shy of 41 percent form 3-point range, making 11 of 27 attempts, largely on Carter’s 5-for-10 performance. The freshman Starkville native’s outburst quickly turned from a boost to a necessity as the Bulldogs suffered another backcourt injury: Lamar Peters limped off the court in the second half with an apparent leg injury. Howland had no update on him or senior guard I.J. Ready, who missed his fourth-straight game, immediately after the game.
MSU made a change to its starting lineup, subbing in Xavian Stapleton and watching him score 11 points in 28 minutes. Kegler was second on the team in both points (16) and rebounds (six).
Sindarius Thornwell had 28 points to help South Carolina (20-5, 10-2) rebound from a 90-86 four-overtime loss to Alabama on Tuesday.
Thornwell was doubly effective because he guarded Quinndary Weatherspoon for much of the game and helped hold him to five points.
Chris Silva added 15 points for the Gamecocks.
MSU will travel to Georgia on Tuesday before returning home for back-to-back home games.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson