STARKVILLE, Miss. -- South Carolina made it interesting in the final seconds. But Mississippi State held on long enough to get a crucial Southeastern Conference victory.
Nick Weatherspoon had 18 points and D.J. Stewart added 16 as Mississippi State held off South Carolina 79-76 on Wednesday.
"It was a big win for us," said Weatherspoon. "South Carolina is one of the hottest teams in the SEC but towards the end we got to play better."
After trailing by 11 points with under four minutes remaining, South Carolina had a furious comeback attempt in the closing seconds. Jair Bolden made a 3-pointer with 7 seconds left to close the Gamecocks'deficit to 78-77. Mississippi State's Robert Woodard made one free throw with 6 seconds left and South Carolina did not get a potential game-tying shot off.
"I am so thankful to the good Lord and very blessed with this group of kids," said Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland. "These guys are tremendous fighters and so tough. That was one of the toughest teams we played in America and South Carolina was so hot coming in here. It is hard to simulate them in practice because of how they play.
"But it was a heck of a win for us against the hottest team in the league. Abdul was tremendous the whole game and Nick did a good job handling the pressure. Nick made some big plays tonight."
Mississippi State shot 50% for the game and made 5 of 12 beyond the arc. The Bulldogs held a noticeable advantage at the free-throw line and made 28 of 36. South Carolina shot 48% from thje floor and made 14 of 19 from the charity stripe.
The Bulldogs held a 32-29 rebounding edge but had 22 turnovers, including six in the final 1:31. South Carolina had 15 turnovers and made just 4 of 17 from 3-point territory.
Mississippi State held the lead throughout the second half and led 71-60 at the last media timeout. South Carolina exploded on a 15-5 run in the final 3:50 of action to make things interesting.
"Credit Mississippi State," said South Carolina head coach Frank Martin. "They just took the lead and we scrapped at the end to give ourselves a chance. But Mississippi State got the ball wherever they wanted to and we didn't get defensive stops.
"We got out-shot by twice as many free throws for the second game in a row and that's the song and dance for us this year. We scrapped and our players are not going to give in, but our fundamentals, defensively, were not good."
The opening minutes proved to be a back-and-forth affair that featured five lead changes and three ties. Mississippi State took a 17-12 lead following a Robert Woodard 3-pointer at the 10:09 mark of the first half. After the Bulldogs stretched the lead to 21-14, Kotsar responded with six straight points to cut the deficit to one.
Mississippi State answered with a 9-2 run, sparked by a Carter 3-pointer, and led 30-22 with 4:36 remaining in the half. The Bulldog led 36-27 at halftime, which was their largest lead of the half.
Mississippi State shot 44% in the first half and made 11 of 13 at the free-throw line. The Gamecocks shot 46% and missed 6 of 7 attempts beyond the arc. The Bulldogs held a 17-13 rebounding advantage at the half and both teams combined for 19 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had won eight of their last ten games entering Wednesday's game and are now 4-13 all-time at Mississippi State.
Mississippi State: Since losing by 25 points to rival Ole Miss last week, Mississippi State has responded with two straight wins to remain in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks begin a two-game homestand against LSU on Saturday.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return to the road and travel to Texas A&M on Saturday.
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