No. 1 South Carolina survives at Mississippi State, 58-51

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (4) is defended by a number of Mississippi State players...
South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (4) is defended by a number of Mississippi State players including guards Asianae Johnson (3) and Debreasha Powe, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)
Published: Jan. 8, 2023 at 5:37 PM EST
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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — There haven’t been many games in which the South Carolina Gamecocks have been challenged on the court over the course of the last few years, but Dawn Staley’s team was on the ropes on Sunday.

The Gamecocks have averaged 82 points per game with a 39-point average margin of victory. Mississippi State kept the game in single digits the entire way until the final minute and would give the Gamecocks a challenge but the defending national champs prevailed yet again, 58-51.

“To keep our women in a position to take everybody’s best, we’ve done it for the last several years,” coach Dawn Staley said. “We’ve been pretty successful in this conference, and I do think it’s because of the competition that we see night in and night out. We’ve got to perform at a high level. There’s no room for us to have mental breakdowns or mental mistakes because people will make us pay for it. I thought Mississippi State did that.”

Zia Cooke scored 16 points and Aliyah Boston added 12 to help No. 1 remain unbeaten. It was just the third time this season that the Gamecocks won by single digits and the first time that the team has been held under 60 points this year.

The Gamecocks were held to a season-low point total on 19 of 65 (29%) shooting, but were able to find a way. Boston added 15 rebounds in the win.

South Carolina (16-0, 3-0 SEC) had a massive advantage at the free throw line where the Gamecocks were 14 of 24 while MSU was 2 of 5. The Gamecocks also dominated the boards with a 53-35 edge including 22 offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs also surrendered 25 offensive rebounds to Tennessee in a loss earlier this week.

It was another stellar defensive showing for Mississippi State (12-5, 1-3), which is second in the SEC in scoring defense and top five nationally.

Jerkaila Jordan led the way for the Bulldogs against No. 1 with 13 points and five rebounds. Jessika Carter had 11 points on 5 of 11 with nine rebounds and had nine of those points in the fourth quarter.

After struggling in the first three quarters to get points, Carter gave a final push.

“It was time to turn it on. My teammates don’t let me get down on myself. In the first half, it wasn’t working for me and I wasn’t playing as hard as I could have,” Carter said. “My teammates told me they needed me and I had to do what I had to do.”

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks were challenged in a big way by the Bulldogs but survived to stay undefeated. The defending champs have been absolutely dominant this year with only three games decided by single digits. They remain the team to beat in the SEC yet again.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were looking for a spark after back-to-back losses to Ole Miss and Tennessee and they got it. State will now look to get back on track with some wins.