STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Reggie Perry fought through two defenders in the final minute to finish a layup and draw the foul, flexing his right bicep as he strolled toward the free throw line for his extra shot.
After weeks of up-and-down play, Mississippi State is finally playing consistent basketball. This time it was Perry’s 21 points — including 17 in the second half — that helped spark Mississippi State to a 76-61 comeback victory over South Carolina on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs (20-7, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) have won four straight games and are now in prime position to break an NCAA Tournament drought that’s lasted a decade. It’s a team that’s well aware of its postseason situation.
“We’re talking about it every day,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “There’s no hiding from it. This was an important step toward that goal.”
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Perry’s 21 points tied a career high to help the Bulldogs rally from a 12-point deficit early in the second half. Quinndary Weatherspoon added 17 points and Lamar Peters had 11 points and nine assists. Weatherspoon has scored at least 10 points in 25 of 27 games this season.
Abdul Ado scored seven points and blocked six shots.
Peters said the Bulldogs stayed calm even when they fell behind.
“Don’t get too frustrated because it only gets worse when you play mad,” Peters said. “When you’re frustrated, you think of negativity. I just told the guys let’s get out there and have fun.”
The Bulldogs split the season series against South Carolina after losing the first game 87-82 in overtime on Jan. 8.
South Carolina (14-13, 9-5) opened a 41-29 lead early in the second half, but Mississippi State quickly stormed back and went up 46-45 when Aric Holman threw down a dunk with 15:11 remaining. The Bulldogs never trailed during the final 13 minutes.
Perry, a 6-foot-10 freshman, shot 7 of 12 from the field and 7 of 7 on free throws. He added six rebounds. The McDonald’s All-American has quickly turned into an indispensable part of the Bulldogs’ offense, scoring in double figures in eight of his last nine games.
Mississippi State shot 65 percent from the field in the second half, slowly pulling away in the final minutes. South Carolina made just eight field goals in the second half.
A.J. Lawson led the Gamecocks with 18 points.
South Carolina dominated most of the first half, pushing to a 19-6 lead after Mississippi State made just one field goal during the first 11 minutes. The Gamecocks led 30-14 with four minutes remaining before halftime, but the Bulldogs closed the gap to 36-29 by the break.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said Mississippi State’s comeback was more about how well the Bulldogs played than anything the Gamecocks did poorly.
“They’re real good,” Martin said. “They’re as hard of team to play against as I’ve coached against this year because of what they do off the dribble.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ under-the-radar rally to get into NCAA Tournament consideration took a huge hit in Starkville. South Carolina looked great in the opening minutes, but couldn’t match the offensive pace when Mississippi State went on its run.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs reached 20 wins for a second straight season. Mississippi State is down to a seven-man rotation because guard Nick Weatherspoon has been suspended the past three games for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The Bulldogs are making it work because all seven are providing big plays.
“Everyone is doing their job and what they have to do to help this team win,” Howland said. “It takes everybody.”
South Carolina: Hosts Alabama on Tuesday.
Mississippi State: Hosts Missouri on Tuesday.
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