COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina forward Maik Kotsar scored 20 points on his Senior Night and pushed the Gamecocks to an 83-71 win over Mississippi State on Tuesday.
The Gamecocks (18-12, 10-7 Southeastern Conference) clinched their fourth winning conference season in five years and breathed life into their flagging NCAA Tournament hopes, which nearly flatlined after Saturday’s loss at Alabama. The Bulldogs (19-11, 10-7) saw a two-game winning streak snapped.
South Carolina is still in contention for a top-four finish in the SEC, which would be its fourth in five years, but needs help from Florida, to which it would lose a tiebreaker. Kotsar, A.J. Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant, who threw down two highlight-reel dunks among his 12 points, helped keep the Gamecocks in range.
South Carolina took control with a 20-0 first-half run, but Mississippi State responded with a 25-9 run to make it a two-point game at halftime. But with SEC Player of the Year candidate Reggie Perry hampered with foul trouble and Kotsar anchoring the Gamecocks’ offense, South Carolina pulled away in the second half.
Tyson Carter led the Bulldogs with 24 points, including 10 straight in one second-half stretch.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost their last shot for a Quadrant 1 win. Although they still have a chance of finishing in the SEC’s top four and have a solid NET ranking, their resume doesn’t boast many very notable wins. They’ll have to win their final game and get a couple in the SEC Tournament to feel strong about their at-large NCAA Tournament chances.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are clinging to their own slim chance for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. A loss to Alabama the last time out put them right on the precipice but if they win their final game, then notch their 20th win of the season at the SEC Tournament, they could sneak in.
Mississippi State finishes the regular season at home Saturday against rival Ole Miss. The Bulldogs were pummeled 83-58 in Oxford on Feb. 11.
South Carolina is at Vanderbilt on Saturday, which will be a prelude to returning to Nashville for the ensuing SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks beat the Commodores 93-57 in Columbia but Vandy, with nothing to play for other than sending its seniors out on a strong note, is a classic trap game.