Jan. 26, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Senior Michael Carrera put on a sublime performance Tuesday night, scoring a career-high 34 points to go with 15 rebounds as the Gamecocks held off Mississippi State, 84-74. His 20 second-half points helped to stave off a pair of comeback attempts by the Bulldogs (8-11, 1-6 SEC) and pushed the Gamecocks up to 18-2 (5-2 SEC), the program’s best 20-game start to a season since 2003-04 and the most total wins in a season since 2008-09.
With his eye-popping stat line, Carrera became the first Gamecock to reach at least 30 points with 15 rebounds in a game since the team joined the SEC in 1992.
The two offenses struggled from the field over the first five minutes, combining to hit just three of its first 18 attempts from the floor. A four-minute span without a point from the Bulldogs helped South Carolina erase a 5-1 deficit and take a 7-5 lead at the first media timeout. The lead would grow to 20-9 after Mississippi State turned the ball over six times and scored just two points from the 13:50 until the 8:11 mark.
A quick 7-0 answer from the visitors would bring a timeout from Carolina’s bench just over a minute later, with the lead cut to 20-16. The Bulldogs appeared poised to grab all the momentum after a big 3-pointer and three-point play off a highlight-reel dunk from Quinndary Weatherspoon cut Carolina’s lead to just 25-22. The Gamecocks would play answer back with the exact same combo, getting a 3 from Duane Notice followed immediately by a three-point play from PJ Dozier to cool off MSU.
The Gamecocks would hold on to a comfortable two-possession lead for the final four minutes of play. Carrera sent the 12,764 fans in attendance into the halftime break happy after a buzzer-beating jumper to stake the team to a 43-34 lead at intermission. Carolina’s thorough domination of the boards played a key factor in the half, as its 26-12 advantage in rebounds led to just five second-chance points and 10 points in the paint for Mississippi State.
Out of the break, the Bulldogs were forced into an early timeout after a 5-1 start for Carolina, highlighted by a wide-open 3 from Carrera. Fouls bogged both teams early in the period – both sides were in the bonus with more than 12 minutes to play and Notice, Dozier and Chris Silva were each saddled with four fouls before ten minutes had passed in the period.
Mississippi State was able to work itself back into contention thanks to hot shooting from 3-point range, and used a 12-2 run in less than four minutes to bring the deficit to two, 55-53, with ten minutes to go. Carrera would be a one-man momentum killer, converting an unbelievable three-possession span that kept the encroaching Bulldogs at bay. He blocked a shot on one end, hit a contested 3 in transition on the other, added a layup on the next possession and capped the run off with a three-point play on the possession after that.
The senior’s efforts pushed Carolina’s lead back to 65-57, but MSU’s Malik Newman was ready to counter on the other end. The freshman hit 4-of-6 3s in the second half alone and kept the Bulldogs snapping at Carolina’s heels. As a team, the visitors made 8-of-15 3s in the second half but just 4-of-20 two-point field goals, a fact that hurt them down the stretch when the 3s stopped falling.
After a Mississippi State dunk with 4:40 to go made it just a 73-69 lead for Carolina, the combo of Carrera and Notice at the free throw line and a cold snap from the field put the Bulldogs away for good. Following the dunk, MSU went 2-of-10 shooting the rest of the way and the Gamecock lead swelled back into double digits and stayed there for the final margin.
Following an I.J. Ready 3-pointer with 9:54 left in regulation, South Carolina’s lead had fallen to just two points, 55-53. Michael Carrera put together eight points over three straight possessions to answer Mississippi State’s best shot of the half. A 3-pointer, layup and three-point play pushed Carolina’s lead back up to eight, and MSU would get no closer than four for the rest of the game.
With Mississippi State settling for 3s, the Gamecocks made sure to sow up the rebounding inside. The team held a 51-26 advantage in rebounds for the game, including 33-18 on defensive rebounds. The plus-25 margin was the team’s widest of the season, beating the previous high of plus-18 against Hofstra on Nov. 20.
South Carolina will host Alabama on Saturday in the second meeting of the 2016 league campaign between the two schools. The Crimson Tide handed the Gamecocks their first loss of the season in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 13. Game time for the contest is set for 6 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network with Dave Neal (play-by-play) and Jon Sundvold (analyst) on the call.
- With the win, South Carolina now has won three straight against Mississippi State, the longest streak since winning three between February 2006 and January 2007.
- Michael Carrera is the first Gamecock to score 30 or more points in a game since Brenton Williams on Jan. 25, 2014. He is also the first player to record 15 rebounds in a game since Lakeem Jackson on Nov. 25, 2012.
- Tonight was Carrera’s 10 career double-double, fourth of the season. All four have come in the last 10 games; during that stretch he is averaging 11.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
- The Gamecocks are now 11-0 at home this season, matching the most home wins since 2010-11.
TWEET OF THE GAME