SEC: South Carolina, Mississippi State advance in Atlanta
ATLANTA -- The Georgia Dome is known for more than a few classic moments in SEC football history, but on Wednesday the league's basketball programs were front and center as the SEC men's basketball tournament kicked off with two opening games in Atlanta.
No. 13 South Carolina 74, No. 12 Auburn 56: South Carolina exacted revenge for Auburn's regular-season domination by sinking the Tigers in the first game of the SEC tournament. The Gamecocks had dropped both previous meetings with Auburn, including a 16-point loss on Feb. 26. But South Carolina came to play on both ends of the floor in Atlanta, handing the Tigers their fifth straight SEC Tournament loss.
The Gamecocks built a 38-26 halftime lead thanks to sharp shooting from the outside (7-of-11 on 3-pointers) and 10 assists while Auburn turned the ball over 10 times in the first period. South Carolina continued its surge and opened the second half with two straight treys to force an Auburn timeout. The Tigers couldn't overcome a poor shooting night (38.1 percent) as the Gamecocks controlled the glass with a 39-25 rebounding advantage, which include a whopping 17 offensive boards. Duane Notice also chipped in a game-high 23 points off the bench for South Carolina.
The latest tournament setback for Auburn caused Tigers' athletic director Jay Jacobs to fire head coach Tony Barbee at the team hotel after the game.
The Gamecocks will now face No. 5 Arkansas in the second game of Thursday's slate. The Hogs sit squarely on the bubble and had won six straight games before a road loss to Alabama in the regular-season finale. South Carolina will have to shore up its normally-spotty defense to get past Arkansas, which finished the regular season with the SEC's most potent offense (80.6 points per game).
No. 14 Mississippi State 82, No. 11 Vanderbilt 68: Mississippi State had been through a lot over the past few weeks. The Bulldogs hadn't won a game since Jan. 22, a string of 13 straight losses. That's a blow to a season that started with a promising 9-2 record. It's also a tough way to kick off a conference tournament.
But when Mississippi State shot 61 percent in the first half against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, things finally started looking up. The Bulldogs' 36-31 lead at intermission marked the team's first lead at half in 13 games, and they continued to lay on the offense in the second period. Roquez Johnson banked in a layup with 16:49 to play gave Mississippi State a 44-31 lead and forced a Vandy timeout. But the Commodores fought back to within six points on two Rod Odom free throws with 11 minutes left. It wasn't enough, however, as Vandy failed to score again during the next six minutes and allowed the Bulldogs to build back an 11-point lead. In all Mississippi State shot almost 60 percent from the field and had four players score in double-figures. With the win, the Bulldogs advance to meet No. 6 Ole Miss in Thursday's late game. The Rebels boast electric guard Marshall Henderson, the SEC's third-leading scorer at 19.1 points per game and one of the country's most lethal perimeter shooters. In other Thursday action, No. 9 Texas A&M takes on No. 8 Missouri, while No. 7 LSU battles No. 10 Alabama.