STARKVILLE, MS (WIS) - The Gamecocks had hopes of resetting and getting back on the winning track in their national championship rematch against Mississippi State.
The second-ranked Bulldogs had other plans. A strong fourth quarter from Teaira McCowan would provide the spark the Bulldogs needed to capture a 67-53 win to remain unbeaten.
"Much like what Dawn said a year ago at their place, we probably don't beat them today if we're not at home," said Bulldogs head coach Vic Schaefer. "Our fans were just spectacular. What an environment for both teams, both sets of student-athletes to get to play in. The Hump was just incredible."
A'ja Wilson took control early for the Gamecocks. The All-American scored 10 of the team's first 15 points and finished the period with 12. With Carolina up nine, the Bulldogs struggled to find points. Mississippi State shot just 25 percent from the field and trailed 20-10 heading into the second period.
Mississippi State trailed by 12 with 7:01 left in the first half, but Victoria Vivians helped Vic Schaefer's squad turn things around. The senior guard scored 12 of her 20 points in the second quarter. As Vivians continued to fill up the stat sheet, South Carolina's offense went cold. Like Mississippi State in the first quarter, Dawn Staley's squad shot 25 percent from the field in the second. The Bulldogs outscored the Gamecocks 19-6 in the final seven minutes of the half to take a 29-28 lead at the break.
South Carolina turned up the intensity defensively in the third quarter holding the Bulldogs to just under 27 percent. However, the defending national champions couldn't pull away. Thanks to a 3-point jumper by Doniyah Cliney to beat the buzzer, the Gamecocks went into the final quarter with a 44-39 lead.
"I was hoping it gave us some kind of momentum," said Cliney when asked about the buzzer beater. "We thought we had good momentum until we let the crowd get the best of us. We thought we'd push through."
Carolina couldn't find a way to hold their lead in the fourth. The Gamecocks surrendered a 12-3 run in the first five minutes of the final quarter highlighted by Blair Schaefer's back-to-back threes pushing Mississippi State ahead 52-44 with 5:19 to go. From there, McCowan made her mark. The 6-foot-7 junior scored seven of the Bulldogs' final 15 points to secure the win.
"They just went with it," Wilson said when asked about the Bulldogs' second and fourth quarters. "Basketball's a game of runs. They went on their run and it was hard for us to get things going offensively. So, they just kinda kept growing and growing. I mean, we tried our best out there and we gave it our all at some points, but they just went on a run."
South Carolina has now lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2013. They'll travel to Alabama on Thursday for a 7 p.m. matchup.