The off-the-court COVID-19 issues have largely subsided, but the ups and downs remain.
Coming off an exhilarating, season-best road upset of No. 22 Florida on Wednesday, the South Carolina men’s basketball team faltered at home to Mississippi State (11-9, 4-6 SEC) on Saturday, losing to the Bulldogs, 75-59.
The game marked the seventh straight game the Gamecocks have played after three separate COVID-19 pauses sidelined USC for much of December and parts of January. The Gamecocks have gone 2-5 in that span, unable to find consistency from one game to the next.
3 Observations from USC-MSU:
1. Chippy start
The game opened in unusual fashion, as a pre-game scuffle led the referees to call a technical foul on 6-foot-7 MSU freshman Keondre Montgomery. South Carolina junior guard A.J. Lawson made one of two free throws before the ball even tipped.
Once the game started, both teams engaged in physical, aggressive play. The Gamecocks were in the bonus midway through the first half, and the teams combined for 23 first-half fouls, with MSU leading the way with 13.
Because of the constant whistles, neither team could get into much of a groove in the first half. The Gamecocks made just nine of 31 field goals, while the Bulldogs appeared to hit their stride at the tail end of the half.
The second 20-minute frame was cleaner for both teams from a foul standpoint, but the Bulldogs continued to bully USC inside, out-rebounding the Gamecocks 46-30.
2. Lawson reaches milestone, can’t match Stewart
In the midst of a career-best junior season, Lawson added a key milestone to his South Carolina resume. Early in the first half, on a free-throw attempt, Lawson notched his 1,000th point as a Gamecock, becoming the 47th player to reach that mark in South Carolina history.
As it would turn out, Lawson’s three made free throws were the only points he scored in the first half, as the Bulldogs bottled up the USC offense and held the Gamecocks to 1-of-12 shooting from the 3-point line. But entering the contest with a team-leading 17.6 points per game, Lawson couldn’t be held down for long.
He opened the second-half scoring with his first 3-pointer (and field goal) of the game, and he continued on to score 13 points for the game, even adding a dunk midway through the second half.
However, Lawson couldn’t keep pace with Mississippi State leading scorer D.J. Stewart Jr. and struggled containing him on the defensive end. The 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore guard entered the game just behind Lawson with 17.1 points per game, but Stewart had the hotter hand. He diced up the Gamecocks defense for 29 points, making 10 of 17 field goals and four of six 3-point attempts.
3. Different arena environment
Opening a three-game homestand —by far its longest stretch of home games this season — the South Carolina men’s team provided a different kind of experience at Colonial Life Arena on Saturday.
A drum line played outside the front of the arena before the game, greeting fans as they walked in. Many stopped to take videos and pictures of the drummers on their phones.
Inside the building, the Gamecocks added a different flair to the pre-game experience, encouraging fans to remain standing after the national anthem while “Lift Every Voice and Sing” played over the arena speakers. Both teams stood for the song, and the socially distanced crowd cheered after it was played. Saturday was the first home game South Carolina has played during February, which is Black History Month.
Next USC basketball game
Who: South Carolina (5-7, 3-5 SEC) vs. No. 10 Alabama (15-5, 10-1)
Where: Colonial Life Arena
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
Watch: SEC Network