COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina forward Maik Kotsar scored 20 points on his Senior Night and pushed the Gamecocks to an 83-71 win over Mississippi State on Tuesday.
The Gamecocks (18-12, 10-7 Southeastern Conference) clinched their fourth winning conference season in five years and breathed life into their flagging NCAA Tournament hopes, which nearly flatlined after Saturday's loss at Alabama. The Bulldogs (19-11, 10-7) saw a two-game winning streak snapped.
"They really were phenomenal tonight, and with all riding on this game tonight from our standpoint ... ," Bulldogs coach Ben Howland trailed off. "You don't want to play them."
South Carolina is still in contention for a top-four finish in the SEC, which would be its fourth in five years, but needs help from Florida, to which it would lose a tiebreaker. Kotsar, A.J. Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant, who threw down two highlight-reel dunks among his 12 points, helped keep the Gamecocks in range.
"I feel like we fought really hard and it was a great way to go out," Kotsar said. "I feel like confidence is my main thing. Today, I didn't make a lot of shots, but the guys were encouraging me, helping me out, saying, 'If you're open, shoot it.'"
He did, posting a couple of rare dunks and taking advantage of an even rarer fluid offensive night. The Gamecocks' reputation this year has been a team that fouls too much, goes on severe dry spells from the floor and can't make its free throws.
On Tuesday, the Gamecocks shot 48.5% still had 23 fouls, only missed five from the line and were the better offensive team.
Bryant and Lawson each had 12 points while three other Gamecocks finished with eight apiece. MSU got 17 points and 16 rebounds from SEC Player of the Year candidate Reggie Perry and 24 points from Tyson Carter, who cooked the Gamecocks with 10 straight points in one second-half stretch.
Yet it wasn’t enough. Kotsar owned the paint, Jermaine Couisnard stroked a big 3-pointer and the Bulldogs dropped a game they had to have for their own NCAA Tournament chances.
South Carolina took control with a 20-0 first-half run, but Mississippi State responded with a 25-9 run to make it a two-point game at halftime. The Bulldogs wilted in the second half.
"To use all that energy, to be down so big and have to come back from that, it was really tough on us," Howland said.
> South Carolina shot 54.8 percent (17-for-31 FGs) from the field in the second half.
> The Gamecocks had 20 assists marking the fifth time during the 2019-20 season the team has had 20 or more helpers in a game.
> Senior forward Mark Kotsar had a team-high 20 points in his final career game at Colonial Life Arena, for his third 20-point outing of the season (all in SEC play). The four-year starter made nine field goals and also had four assists.
> Redshirt freshman point guard Jermaine Couisnard had a career-high 10 assists becoming the first Gamecock since Devan Downey to have 10 or more assists in a game (had 11 vs. LSU in the SEC Tournament on 3/13/08 in Atlanta, Ga.). The East Chicago, Ind., native, has led the team in assists 14 times this season and has 13 games under his belt with three or more helpers.
> Sophomores AJ Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant rounded out the South Carolina players in double figures, each scoring 12 points. Bryant's three-game double-double streak was snapped as he finished just shy of a fourth with seven rebounds tonight against the Bulldogs.
> Tonight marked the Gamecocks' 10th win in SEC play. Carolina has now had double-digit victories in league action in four of the five last seasons.