Gamecocks fall to Stetson

Maik Kotsar

South Carolina scored 20 consecutive points over one four-plus minute span and led Mississippi State by as many as 18 points in the first half of Tuesday’s SEC clash at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks had six different scorers during the run that included three 3s and two dunks.

An early six-point deficit turned into a 14-point lead.

But just as quickly as the fortune came, the fortune went. SC led by just two at halftime after shooting 2 for 14 from the field to end the half.

Fortunately for the home team the lead ballooned back to double digits in the second half, and South Carolina (18-12, 10-7 SEC) escaped with a 83-71 victory over the Bulldogs (19-11, 10-7 SEC).

Forward Maik Kotsar, on his Senior Night, led the Gamecocks with 20 points, four assists and two rebounds. Keyshawn Bryant had 12 points and six rebounds, while AJ Lawson added 12 points, four rebounds and two assists. 

Jermaine Couisnard had 10 assists and no turnovers in 29 minutes.

Tyson Carter led the Bulldogs with 24 points.

“To play my last game at the CLA and get the win, just to play with the guys one last time, it meant a lot,” Kotsar said. “ … You can always do better, but at the same time I feel like we fought really hard. 

“It was a great way to go out.”

“Kotsar is such a great player and such a problem. … He’s like automatic from 17 feet. He’s going to make a lot of money playing basketball for a long time,” Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said. “ … [He] was really good as a freshman. We played him. I remember. They beat us twice that year.

“… Kotsar is special. With his ball handling skills, his passing skills, his footwork, his lateral quickness, to go with that body, he can play in the NBA. … He’s a special talent and a great kid. He’s an all-league player, first team in the SEC.”

Added South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, “When you’re a college coach, you coach to see guys like Maik Kotsar. That’s what it’s all about. I’m real proud of him.”

South Carolina led by two, at 40-38, entering the second half, but a layup from Kotsar and two from Alanzo Frink all in the same spot underneath the right side of the basket made it 46-40.

And that’s how it went for much of the second half — the Gamecocks clinging to four-, six- and eight-point leads.

Two Bryant jumpers — both from the right side — sandwiched around a Kotsar pullup made it 52-44 just over four minutes in. Lawson’s second 3 pointer of the game, from the right corner, made it 55-46 with 14:01 to play.

Bryant then took a Couisnard feed on the left side, cocked his left arm back and threw down a dunk off Mississippi State’s Robert Woodard II.

Fans chanted, “Keyshawn Bryant! Keyshawn Bryant!”

The lead was back to eight, at 57-49.

The lead was back to eight, at 59-51, after a Couisnard floater with 10:13 to play, and back to eight, at 61-53, after a Jalyn McCreary jumper at the 9:17 mark.

A McCreary basket underneath gave South Carolina its first double-digit second half lead, at 63-53, with 7:09 to go in regulation.

Mississippi State called timeout.

To no avail.

A Kotsar slam an alley-oop feed from Couisnard moments later pushed the home team’s lead to 11.

The lead got down to four, at 66-62, after two Tyson Carter free throws with 4:39 to go, but South Carolina answered with a clutch Couisnard 3 and a Bryant right-side jumper.

Kotsar then scored his final points, a jumper from the right side, to make it 73-66 with 2:56 to go.

A Lawson layup — while being fouled — put the exclamation point on it. 

The Mississippi State coach then mentioned how South Carolina shot 48 percent from the field and the Bulldogs shot 39 percent, how his team had 14 turnovers and the Gamecocks had seven.

The 20-0 run during the first half came over a stretch from the 15:09 to 10:46 marks, and it turned an 11-5 deficit into a 25-11 lead.

South Carolina, though, had started 2 for 7 from the field and trailed 7-4, causing head coach Frank Martin frustration that led him to being called for a technical foul warning just three minutes into regulation.

A Reggie Perry layup and a Woodard II dunk gave Mississippi State a 11-5 lead less than five minutes in, but Maik Kotsar’s second turnover jumper cut it to 11-7.

That began the run.

Gamecock guard Jair Bolden, as he has seemed to do all season, sank back-to-back 3 that gave the home team a 13-11 lead at the 14:06 mark. Frink followed with dunk and an and-one free throw to push it to 16-11.

An AJ Lawson 3, from the left corner, made it 19-11, before two Trae Hannibal free throws extended the lead to 21-11 eight minutes in. After Perry missed a free throw, Gamecock center Wildens Leveque threw down a dunk to push the lead to 23-11.

Hannibal made it a round 20 with a jumper to make it 25-11.

A Weatherspoon free throw at the 10:29 mark, followed by another, ended the run with South Carolina leading 25-13.

But the storm kept coming.

Bolden hit another jumper and Kotsar sank two free throws before Bryant brought the house down with a soaring dunk from the left side.

It was 31-13, and Mississippi State called timeout.

Two more Kotsar jumpers over a 40-second span brought a somewhat-shrinking lead to 35-20 before Perry sank a 3 to cut it back to 10, at 35-25, with just over six minutes to go in the half.

A Weatherspoon jumper in the lane to cut it to 35-27 with 5:39 to play in the half forced South Carolina to call a 30-second timeout.

A Perry dunk, Iverson Molinar free throws and a Woodard II jumper cut the South Carolina lead to 38-33 with less than four minutes to play in the half.

“You just have to lock in and stay focused when you have a lead like that,” Lawson said. “ … And just be careful with the ball.”

“They go on a 20-0 run, 26-2, and we did a great job finding a way back in, and we were only down two at the half, but to use all that energy … to be down so big and have to come back, was really tough on us,” Howland said.

“And in the second half we got off to a slow start. And it was their defense. Give them credit. They hurt us.”

Said Martin, “We played probably as well as we’ve played offensively, from a structural standpoint, and that allowed our defense to set a lot. I thought we battled defensively.”