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01/09/2013 10:42 PM EST
Mississippi State beats South Carolina 56-54
MISSISSIPPI ST 56, SOUTH CAROLINA 54

By DAVID BRANDT
AP Sports Writer

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Craig Sword scored 18 points, Roquez
Johnson added 14 and Mississippi State edged South Carolina
56-54 on Wednesday in the Southeastern Conference opener for
both teams.



Mississippi State (6-7) first-year coach Rick Ray won his SEC
debut. Sword shot 6 of 11 from the field and had a dunk with 26
seconds left that provided enough separation for the victory.



South Carolina's Bruce Ellington and Brian Richardson both
missed contested 3-pointers in the final seconds. The Gamecocks
(10-4) couldn't overcome 24 turnovers. Richardson led South
Carolina with 20 points.



The Gamecocks took a 50-44 lead with 5:25 remaining, but the
Bulldogs responded with an 8-0 run that provided the momentum to
get the win.



Mississippi State won despite missing all 10 of its 3-point
attempts. The Gamecocks were 8 of 21 from long range.



South Carolina looked like it might pull out a win, but the
Bulldogs' pressure defense forced the Gamecocks into
consistently bad decisions late. South Carolina's turnovers
fueled several easy Mississippi State baskets in the final
minutes and the Bulldogs pushed ahead 52-50 with 3 minutes left.



Mississippi State's offense ranked among the league's worst
during non-conference play, so the slow, half-court game suited
the Bulldogs.



But the poor shooting was tough to overcome. Mississippi State
shot just 38.8 percent from the field (19 of 49).



Mississippi State has just seven scholarship players because of
injuries and attrition. The Bulldogs predictably struggled
during non-conference play, including a loss to Alabama A&M that
Ray called a "public embarrassment" earlier in the week.



That all made the win over South Carolina even more important
and Sword is one of the key players who must improve if
Mississippi State wants to be competitive in the SEC. The
6-foot-3 freshman from Montgomery, Ala., has had bouts of good
play this season, but also stretches of exasperating turnovers
and poor shot selection.



Those problems sometimes surfaced on Wednesday. He had seven
turnovers against the Gamecocks, but there was little doubt the
good outweighed the bad. Colin Borchert added eight points and
four blocked shots.



South Carolina's roster isn't quite as thin as Mississippi
State's, but is undeniably in transition during coach Frank
Martin's first season. The problems were obvious in the
backcourt, where the Gamecocks simply couldn't handle
Mississippi State half-court pressure defense.



Mississippi State scored 28 points off the Gamecocks' 24
turnovers.



Ellington, who was playing football for South Carolina just two
weeks ago, showed his rust with nine turnovers. He also added 11
points.



-----



Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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