By JOEL COLEMAN
Individual performances like Saturday’s were most likely what Tyson Carter envisioned when he signed with Mississippi State out of Starkville High School. The freshman guard was draining shot after shot and was carrying the Bulldogs on his back against No. 19 South Carolina.
The only part that didn’t go Carter’s way was the end result.
Carter scored a career-best and team-high 22 points, but the Bulldogs fell 77-73 to the Gamecocks at Humphrey Coliseum. It was a tough pill to swallow for Carter after his best showing yet in maroon and white.
“We’ve just got to get back to practice and work a little harder on some of the stuff we made mistakes on,” Carter said. “We really did want to win this game.”
Carter’s sweet, yet sour, evening was, in a nutshell, the equivalent of MSU’s night as a team. Facing one of the Southeastern Conference’s best teams, the Bulldogs shot 53 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Gamecocks 31-28.
However, 28 points from South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, 29 trips to the free throw line for the Gamecocks and 19 costly MSU turnovers ultimately caught up to the Bulldogs.
“This is obviously a disappointing loss for us because we had a really great opportunity to beat a very good team,” Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said. “We had the lead late in the game and I was really proud with our effort and our toughness that we showed. They just hurt us inside and the turnovers were a key factor. Then, getting 17 more foul shots attempted by an opponent is a tough recipe.”
Carter’s big night almost helped MSU overcome it all. Carter was 8-of-13 from the field in the game. He was 5-of-10 from beyond the 3-point line. Carter was especially sharp in the first half as he made six of his first seven shots including four out of five from beyond the arc, on the way to tallying 16 points prior to the intermission as MSU and South Carolina went to the locker rooms tied 36-36.
“I guess it was just one of those days,” Carter said. “There was some open spots in their defense and my teammates found me. I just knocked down some open shots.”
Fueled by Carter’s success along with a 16-point showing from Mario Kegler, Kegler’s third straight game scoring in double figures, Mississippi State held a 64-63 lead in the game with just over five minutes left to play. That’s when the wheels began to fall off for MSU.
South Carolina’s Duane Notice hit a 3-pointer with 4:50 to go to begin a 9-0 run for the Gamecocks. Mississippi State wouldn’t get any closer than four points the rest of the way.
“We were able to get a couple of stops after I switched to zone,” South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said of his team’s surge. “I think that made (MSU) kind of stand around a little bit.
“We also threw the ball in the post.”
As the Gamecocks cemented the win, Howland was faced with the reality of another hard-fought loss. Despite Carter’s big night, State has now lost four of its last five and six of its last eight. Most of those nights, Howland feels his team had a chance to pull out the win.
That allows Howland to see the bright side of things even as the Bulldogs deal with another defeat.
“I think we’re really close,” Howland said. “A game like (Saturday’s), we could have won the game.