Senior Night ended in disappointment for Malik Cooke as Mississippi State forward Brian Bryant banked in the game-winning jumper with no time remaining on the clock to give his team a 69-67 overtime victory over South Carolina at the Colonial Life Arena.
Senior Malik Cooke
In a nip-and-tuck affair in which neither team held a lead of more than seven points, the Gamecocks (10-19, 2-13) came up just short. South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn was proud of his team’s effort and believes it played their best game of the season.
“I don’t have the words to articulate how that one makes you feel,” Horn said. “We played really well, guarded really well, and had a total team effort. I thought everyone that played really contributed and brought the things they could do to give our team an opportunity to be successful.”
The Bulldogs snapped a five-game losing streak when Bryant’s shot fell through the bucket. The team and small traveling fan contingent celebrated like it was an NCAA Tournament win as it finally broke through for its 20th victory of the season.
“We needed something good to happen for us tonight,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We’ve been in this situation two or three different times in the losing streak we’ve had. The basketball gods were looking after us today.”
The struggling teams played close for most of the first half. The Bulldogs were able to open up a seven-point lead at halftime thanks to an 11-4 run over the final 5:50 of the first half. Big-bodied Renardo Sidney had eight points and seven rebounds in the first half to pace the visitors in the first half.
As a team, Mississippi State shot 54.5 percent in the first half, including 8-of-9 from the free throw line. South Carolina hit on just 11-of-31 shot attempts for 35.5 percent. Cooke, playing his final game, had seven points in the first half to lead the Gamecocks.
Sophomore Bruce Ellington nailed a three-pointer with 17:05 remaining in the second half to bring the Gamecocks back to within a point. The Bulldogs were able to maintain a lead thanks to multiple dunks on the offensive end until just under 13 minutes remaining in the game.
Reserve guard Eric Smith dropped in a layup with 12:36 remaining in the game to give the Gamecocks their first lead at 42-41 since 6:24 remaining in the first half.
Mississippi State was able to retake the lead and hold on to a narrow margin until the final few minutes of the game. Ellington drilled a three-pointer with 3:05 remaining to put the Gamecocks back on top 56-55. He had a chance to make it back-to-back makes from long range, but missed on his shot from the wing with two minutes remaining.
After another defensive stop, South Carolina tried to melt the clock. The Bulldogs had a mix-up on defense and Ellington found a wide open Damontre Harris in the lane. The big man took a dribble and threw down a two-handed slam with 1:12 left in the game.
Cooke ran down the court grinning from ear-to-ear pumping up the few but the strong in attendance.
“I thought our fans that were here tonight were tremendous,” Horn said. “They gave us a lift and got into the game down the stretch.”
After a Mississippi State timeout, Arnett Moultrie tied the game at 58 apiece with a three-point play. He made a layup in traffic and was fouled on the play by Harris.
With 24.7 seconds left, freshman Anthony Gill was fouled on a put-back attempt in the lane after an Ellington miss. A near season-long starter, Gill calmly sank both free-throw attempts to but South Carolina up 60-58.
The lead would be short-lived though, as Moultrie was fouled inside by Harris and went to the line for two. The forward, who was the team’s leading scorer with 13 points, pushed his game total to 15 by knocking down both attempts.
Cooke’s home career would be extended for five extra minutes as the two teams went into overtime. Ellington missed a last-second, off-balance shot from short range that would have given his team the win in regulation.
In overtime, there was either a tie or a lead change six different times. The final change came without any time remaining on the clock. Ellington grabbed a defensive rebound with 1.4 second remaining, but stepped out of bounds on the baseline giving Mississippi State the ball under the goal with plenty of time to get a shot off.
Guard Dee Bost found an unguarded Brian Bryant just outside the paint. He delivered a bounce pass, took one dribble, and went up for a shot. He banked it in off the glass as the red light went on to signify the end of the game.
“I just fell towards the ball,” Bryant said. “I knew we had to get a shot, so I laid it up.”
Ellington finished the game with a team-high 17 points. Harris notched his second double-double in three games going for 14 points and 11 rebounds on the night. He also had two blocks and a pair of steals.
As a team, the Gamecocks shot 40 percent from the field but made only 5-of-10 shots from the free throw line. Mississippi State made four of its seven shots in overtime and shot 44.1 percent from the field for the game.
South Carolina will finish the regular season on Saturday afternoon at Stegman Coliseum against Georgia. With the loss, the Gamecocks are assured of the No. 12 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.