Deivon Smith caught the ball at the top of the key, and with under five seconds left in the half he drove toward the paint, bringing two defenders with him. Glancing to his left and seeing sophomore guard D.J. Stewart Jr. wide open from three, freshman guard Smith leapt into the air and threaded the ball right into the open hands of Stewart. Cocking his arms back into his shot pocket and releasing the ball, Stewart hit nothing but net from deep as the horn sounded, emphatically putting the Bulldogs up 38-23 at the half.
The 1000 fans in attendance jumped out of their seats and cheered as the first half came to an end off a terrific play.
"Shout out to Deivon for finding me," Stewart shared after the game. "If it wasn't for him making that pass, then I wouldn't have gotten the shot."
That was just one of the many exhilarating plays Mississippi State University executed last Wednesday when they faced the University of South Carolina, coming away with a dominant win over the Gamecocks 69-48.
This Bulldog win improved their overall record to 13-11 and 7-8 in conference play. MSU has beaten South Carolina for the second time this year, ending this year's match ups with a sweep, something the Bulldogs have not done against South Carolina since 2018. Historically, MSU has won 25 out of the 41 matchups against South Carolina, owning the Gamecocks' 16 wins. Head Coach Ben Howland reflected on that feat and said his team played with a lot of effort which helped propel them into the victory column.
"It (sweeping South Carolina for the first time since 2018) was huge," Howland proudly commented. "I was really worried about this game because I have such respect for Frank (Martin), his program and all he's accomplished. He's such a great competitor. Our guys came out and really built on what we did Saturday in Oxford. We really took a positive step by putting back-to-back great efforts together. That was the key, the effort and the execution defensively and offensively."
Execution is what MSU did extremely well during the matchup. United by effort and a ferocious desire to win, the Bulldogs swatted six of South Carolina's shot attempts, racked up eight steals, kept the ball moving with 16 assists and dominated the glass by grabbing an astounding 49 rebounds. Coach Howland said he thought his team played phenomenally, especially on the defensive end.
"I give D.J. and our team defense a lot of credit. I thought our defense was fantastic again. I love the rebounding," Howland said about one of his key players. "I thought Tolu (Smith) with 13 rebounds and Abdul (Ado) with eight really anchored it. Tolu (Smith) was great tonight on the defensive glass. He had a career high in defensive rebounds. I thought Deivon (Smith) did a great job moving the ball, sharing the ball, and he knocked down a couple of big threes. I thought Derek (Fountain) was really good, especially early in the game. He hit a big three early, and he did a lot of good things for us. That was a really good team win."
There were many good things MSU did on the floor against South Carolina, but they did not play a perfect game. As a team MSU had 21 turnovers, compared to the Gamecocks' 11. The Bulldogs played exceptionally well on defense, especially in the paint, but they still struggled to be a real defensive threat on the perimeter.
South Carolina shot an abysmal 19% from three off 21 attempts, and not all of those misses can be attributed to MSU's defense. Many of those shots were uncontested but just did not fall. South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin recognized his team missing the mark from deep, and he said it is imperative his team makes shots.
"You just have to make shots. Listen, it's not rocket science. Basketball is not really rocket science," Martin said. "When you shoot 29% from the field on the road in the SEC, you are not winning. When you shoot 29% and you get out-rebounded by 25 points, you are not winning. We got to open shots. You can make them all but you have to make some. Right now, we never make any. If we are not going to make open shots, it's going to be hard as heck to win."
MSU hosted the University of Alabama on Saturday, where the Bulldogs were taken down by the Crimson Tide 64-59. Coming up next for the Bulldogs is a trip to Bryan-College Station, Texas, where they will play against Texas A&M University on March 3.