The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: Men's basketball starts SEC play with 68-62 win against Mississippi State

The South Carolina men's basketball team defeated Mississippi State on Jan. 6, 2024, at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks faced the Bulldogs in the opening game of SEC play for the season and are now 13-1 for the sixth time in school history.

The South Carolina men’s basketball team defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs 68-62 in nail-biting fashion on Saturday to kick off conference play after dominating the non-conference schedule before the new year. 

In the beginning it was all Bulldogs, going on an 11-3 run behind some suffocating team defense. In that span, Mississippi State forced five turnovers while South Carolina struggled to get clean looks offensively. 

South Carolina overcame its early woes and finished the first half up 30-28, thanks to clutch three-point shooting from junior guards Meechie Johnson and Myles Stute. The Gamecocks also did a much better job of protecting the basketball, only allowing two more turnovers to finish with seven heading into the break. 


“We played with more, a little more space on the floor, and it allowed us to attack,” head coach Lamont Paris said. Paris has led the Gamecocks to its sixth 13-1 start in school history. 

The Gamecocks fought fiercely in the second half, as both teams went back and forth without either pulling away. South Carolina won the rebounding battle, dominating the offensive glass 15-6, as the the team had 10 more second-chance points than Mississippi State.

The hero for the Gamecocks was undoubtedly Johnson, who finished with 24 points and six rebounds, including nine free throws and a clutch steal down the stretch. He shot 9-11 from the stripe, while knocking down three three-pointers. 

“I put in so much work, and I trust my work,” Johnson said, who had 15 points in the second half. “My teammates trust me, my coaches trust me, and I just got confidence."

A surprising struggle for the Bulldogs was the interior tandem of graduate forwards Jimmy Bell Jr. and 2023 All-SEC First Team member Tolu Smith III. Smith III, in just his second game back from a foot injury, fouled out late in the game while struggling to have much of an offensive impact. 

Among those who also thrived for the Gamecocks was Stute, who finished with 15 points while shooting 3-5 from three. The Vanderbilt transfer began the second half scoring 10 consecutive points for the Gamecocks, while also notching six rebounds in the contest. 

"I just play with an aggressive mindset every time I come out. So to see a couple shots go in today, especially in the second half coming out to kind of get a sense of a good rhythm, starting things off in that second half felt really good," Stute said. 

Likewise, the bench duo of sophomore guard Zachary Davis and freshman forward Collin Murray-Boyles paid dividends with their extensive minutes down the stretch. Davis finished with 9 points while Murray-Boyles had 8 points, each shooting 3-4 from the field individually after being sidelined for six games with mononucleosis. 

The Gamecocks, ranked 14th in the preseason SEC Men's Basketball media poll, are continuing to prove that they can go toe-to-toe in games with tougher opponents as Lamont Paris’ squad moves to 1-0 in SEC play. The offense shows poise in late game pressure and refuses to shy down from the moment. 

“We put a lot of work in and like I've been telling people, we really trust each other, as a team,” Johnson said. “We’re very confident, and we just believe we can win any game. We go out there and be us.” 

The Gamecocks (13-1) will look to stay hot in the SEC when the team travels to Alabama to take on the Crimson Tide on Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on the SEC Network.