Bulldogs meet Gamecocks to begin tournament play
Special to The Star
March 7, 2001
STARKVILLE Having concluded the regular season by winning four of their last five games, the Mississippi State Bulldogs take on the South Carolina Gamecocks Thursday afternoon in the opening round of the 2001 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.
Tip-off time for the rematch of the regular-season finale for both teams is set for 2:15 p.m. CT at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The contest, as will every SEC Tournament game leading up to Sunday's CBS-televised championship tilt, will be regionally-televised live by Jefferson Pilot Sports.
The Bulldogs closed their regular-season slate this past Saturday with a 77-73 home triumph over the same South Carolina squad. With the recent win over USC, third-year MSU head coach Rick Stansbury tied former State head man Kermit Davis in becoming the fourth-fastest basketball coach in school history to reach 50 career victories (in 90 games).
Assured of a winning season with a 16-11 overall record, the Bulldogs, seeded fourth in the SEC West with a 7-9 league mark, are bidding to earn their seventh postseason tournament berth since 1990.
Involved in the closest MSU individual scoring race since 1987-88, seniors Antonio Jackson and Tang Hamilton continue to pace the Bulldogs in scoring with nearly identical averages of 13.1 points per contest. Leading the way by percentage points over his veteran teammate, Jackson (13.15 ppg) leads State with seven 20-point efforts on the year after Saturday's 23-point outing against the Gamecocks. Having scored 1,285 points during his 119-game Mississippi State career, Hamilton (13.11 ppg) needs 21 more points to break into the school's all-time Top 10 scoring list. The Jackson native enters postseason play having averaged 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds over his last 15 outings.
With the No. 5 seed in the SEC's Eastern Division, South Carolina owns a 14-13 overall record and 6-10 conference mark after Saturday's four-point setback in Starkville. Having dropped five of their last six decisions by a collective total of only 18 points, the Gamecocks' last eight contests (3-5 record) have been decided by an average margin of just 4.1 points per game.
Guided by eighth-year head coach Eddie Fogler, South Carolina is paced by junior guard Jamel Bradley, who leads the team in scoring (11.4 ppg), three-point field goal percentage (34.5%) and free-throw percentage (74.0%). Junior backcourt teammate Aaron Lucas, still nursing a sprained toe, averages 10.6 points and a team-leading 4.0 assists per contest. On the frontline, sophomore center Tony Kitchings averages 9.7 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds a game.
Thursday's MSU-USC first-round winner will advance to take on the 15th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, the top seed in the SEC's Eastern Division, during Friday afternoon's quarterfinal-round action. Tip-off is set for 2:15 p.m.