March 8, 2014 10:57:29 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- It's deja vu in year two.
The Mississippi State men's basketball secured a second-consecutive 13-game losing streak Saturday with a 74-62 loss to South Carolina in the regular-season finale before a crowd of 6,105 at Humphrey Coliseum.
MSU (13-18, 3-15 Southeastern Conference) has lost the same number of SEC regular-season games under coach Rick Ray (29) than the previous four previous seasons combined.
"We're not very good," Ray said. "What's (former NFL Hall of Fame coach) Bill Parcells always say, you are what your record is. We're not good."
After the game, sophomore guard Craig Sword could barely hold his head up at the postgame media table as he tried to describe being a part of a second-consecutive 13-game losing streak.
"It's hard," Sword said while staring down at the table. "We play our hardest and we still can't get a victory."
Without its head coach, South Carolina (12-19, 5-13) guaranteed MSU would finish last in the conference standings for the first time since the 1986-87 season. Gamecocks coach Frank Martin was serving a school-mandated one-game suspension for his language and behavior earlier this week in a loss to Florida.
Gamecocks senior guard Brenton Williams didn't need a coach as he carried the team in the second half. Williams had a highlight reel game in the Gamecocks' second road win in the last three years. Last season, Williams had 38 points in a 79-72 victory against MSU in Columbia, S.C. On Saturday, he continued his hot shooting by going 7 of 14 from 3-point range.
"It was one of those moments like I did last year against Mississippi State," Williams said. "There were times I really didn't know where I was on the floor but just let it go and watched it go in."
In what South Carolina interim coach Matt Figger joked was a brilliant coaching move, the 5-foot-11 guard scored 19 of his game-high 27 points in the second half. After MSU used an 11-0 run to start the second half to take a lead it built to 47-39 with 14 minutes, 18 seconds remaining, Williams buried consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game, quieting the few fans in attendance. The announced crowd was short by several thousands when the teams started the game.
"We didn't start off the second half very well and allowed them to score in some broken-floor situations," Figger said. "(Williams) said at one point he was a man and that meant hopping up and making a few threes."
Fred Thomas and Sword agreed the 5-foot-11 Williams hit contested shots after solid defensive possessions.
"They hit some tough three when we contested it," Thomas said. "We defended them well, but (Williams) hit some shots with a hand in his face."
Ray disagreed with his players' assessment and had the statistics to back up his claim.
"I didn't see that (because) I think they were uncontested threes, but my point is (Williams) isn't supposed to be able to take those threes if we're doing our job," Ray said.
In the first half, Sindarius Thornwell's ability to maneuver through MSU's defense led to easy buckets. Thornwell, who entered the game averaging 13.3 points per game, nearly had that mark in the first 12 minutes, and finished the half with 15 points. Thornwell's ability to drive into the lane without much struggle allowed a much smaller South Carolina team to outscore MSU 36-30 in the paint.
MSU's defensive switch stopped Thornwell, but it opened the perimeter for Williams, South Carolina's leading scorer, to capitalize.
"I thought Fred Thomas did a excellent job defensive because we had him on Brenton Williams in the first half and then we switched him on Sindarius Thornwell," Ray said. "Without Fred on him in the second half, (Williams) goes off in the second half. Somebody on the court for us has to be able to defend besides Fred Thomas."
Sword and Thomas scored 33 of MSU's 62 points, but the rest of the Bulldogs couldn't find the basket. The rest of MSU's eight-man rotation shot 8 of 25 from the field. MSU's front court of Gavin Ware, Roquez Johnson, and Colin Borchert had 17 points and was a big reason South Carolina outrebounded MSU 21-10 on the offensive end.
"The two things we didn't want to do with South Carolina was give them offensive rebounds and turn the ball over," Ray said, "so, especially in the first half, I didn't think we did a good job with the scouting report."
MSU's 13-game losing is the first time the program has had double-digit losing streaks in back-to-back seasons. MSU has a final chance Wednesday night to avoid tying the school record for consecutive losses set in 1955. It will play Vanderbilt (15-15, 7-11) in the final game of the opening round of the SEC tournament. The winner of that game will face Ole Miss (18-13, 9-9) Thursday night.
"We can't go and take that game as the end of a season," Ray said. "How we play against Vanderbilt Wednesday night is a direct indication of how things will be for us next season."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.