College Sports

Mississippi State rains on Gamecocks' celebration

USC's Devan Downey drives for the basket as Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado blocks his shot.
USC's Devan Downey drives for the basket as Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado blocks his shot.

It was the same, but it was different. It didn't end the game, but really, it did.

Another six seconds. Another blown defensive play. Another demoralizing loss for a South Carolina men's basketball team that has suffered so many already.

Or as star guard Devan Downey put it later: "It's like the tale of the season."

If anyone looks back in another 100 years at the game at which the first century of USC basketball was celebrated, it will be noted that the Gamecocks fell in overtime, 61-56, to Mississippi State. But really, this game ended before the extra five minutes. It was over when USC twice failed to put it away.

Evka Baniulis could have clinched the game with 6.1 seconds left by making two free throws. But he only made one, giving Mississippi State one last chance.

That set up three more "ifs" the Gamecocks were left wondering about: If only a foul had been called before MSU's Ben Hansbrough got the ball for a 3-point try. If only a foul had NOT been called on Baniulis defending Hansbrough.

If only Hansbrough missed one of those three shots with 1.1 seconds left. But the brother of North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough made all three.

Even after all that, South Carolina (12-14, 4-8 SEC) should have had the advantage. Mississippi State's best defensive player (Jarvis Varnado) fouled out at the end of the regulation, and its best player (Jamont Gordon) did the same on overtime's first possession.

But for all the close games USC has played this season, this was the first that went to overtime. The players might have been emotionally spent by the time it started Saturday, and they never had a lead in the extra five minutes.

"We had all the energy drained out of us when (Hansbrough) sank those three free throws," USC sophomore Brandis Raley-Ross said.

It was the Gamecocks' seventh loss this season by five points or fewer, and the third in two weeks. So once again they were left dissecting what went wrong in the critical final sequence.

Missed free throws were one issue. Baniulis, Fredrick and Downey each went 1-for-2 in the final minute-and-a-half. Baniulis, incredibly, had not attempted a free throw until he went to the line with six seconds left.

After he hit the second shot, a timeout was called. USC coach Dave Odom ordered the team to go man-to-man, urging a foul to avoid a three-point chance. And when Gordon took the ball upcourt, South Carolina's Dwayne Day hacked at Gordon, but nothing was called.

"I guess (the referee) didn't wanna call it, he wanted to do Mississippi State a favor," Downey said.

Downey said he expected a whistle, so he paused for a second as Gordon drove downcourt. Finally a couple of Gamecocks converged, and Gordon whipped a pass to Hansbrough on the baseline.

His shot rimmed out, but the official raised a hand to signal a foul. Baniulis reacted by putting his hands on his head.

"Did Evka foul him, I don't know, I'm not a ref," Downey said. "I thought the guy flopped, but like I said, I'm not a ref."

The situation harkened back to two weeks ago, when the Gamecocks blew it defensively and allowed Vanderbilt to drive downcourt for the game-winning shot. Asked about the repeat, Odom uncharacteristically cut his postgame press conference short. Before doing so, he maintained he told each player what to do.

"Maybe I haven't done a good job of making them understand," he said. "I don't know, lay it on me if you want to. It's OK."

Then Odom reiterated what was said in the huddle.

"Stay on your men, stay on your shooters. Didn't happen. If they take a jump shot, don't foul them. Did happen," Odom said. "OK? That's the story of that. Write it, tell it. Bye."

Miss. St.61S. Carolina56