COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Michael Carrera sees a major difference this season at South Carolina. So does coach Frank Martin - and for him, it's Carrera's play.
Carrera scored a career-high 34 points and tied a career best with 15 rebounds in the Gamecocks 84-74 victory over Mississippi State on Tuesday night. For South Carolina (18-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference), it was the most wins in Martin's four seasons and again showed how Carrera has blossomed into a prime-time player after three seasons of spotty, injury filled times.
''I'm ecstatic for Mike because he's worked so hard,'' Martin said. ''I'm ecstatic for his ability to lead and his willingness to do what good players do.''
Carrera helped the Gamecocks build a 14-point lead in the second half and, after the Bulldogs (8-11, 1-6) cut things to 55-53, get South Carolina to re-establish control. Carrera said the team stayed united and did not let themselves get overwhelmed in the moment.
''The difference was we always give up when they're coming back'' in past years, Carrera said. ''This time, our experience kicked in. They gave us a game today and we got the win.''
The Gamecocks bounced back from a weekend loss at Tennessee and used Carrera's stellar showing to avoid their first back-to-back losses this season.
Not that it was easy. The Bulldogs whittled a 14-point second-half deficit to 55-53 on I.J. Ready's 3-pointer with 9:13 to play. That's when Carrera fueled a 10-4 run with a 3-pointer, another basket and a three-point play to rebuild South Carolina's lead.
Carrera, a senior, made 10 of 16 field goals and 12 of 15 foul shots. He also had three of South Carolina's seven blocks.
Sindarius Thornwell added 15 points for South Carolina.
Ready had 20 points to lead the Bulldogs, who have lost six of their past seven.
Carrera surpassed his previous best of 23 points, set in 2013 against LSU. He also matched his top rebounding total of 15, accomplished during his freshman season against Milwaukee.
He has stepped up his game as South Carolina attempts to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 seasons. This was his fourth game this season with double-figure points and rebounds, all coming in the past five weeks. He had 22 points last Saturday at Tennessee.
He obliterated those efforts against Mississippi State.
''It was just my day,'' Carrera said.
He was the first Gamecock player to scored 30 or more points since Brenton Williams got 32 against Missouri in January 2014.
Mississippi State had chances to cut further into South Carolina's lead. Down 53-50, Quinndary Weatherspoon missed a layup and Malik Newman a 3-pointer before Carrera was fouled on the rebound and made both free throws.
''After everything's said and done, we're still right there with seven, eight minutes left,'' Mississippi State first-year coach Ben Howland said. ''I thought our guys showed a lot of heart.''
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had just 278 assists total in the 2014-15 season. Mississippi State is well on the way to surpassing that this year with 253 through 18 games. ... The Bulldogs had a season-best 12 blocks, their best single-game showing in five seasons.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are getting to the line more this season than last and are ranked sixth nationally with 29.3 attempts per game. They had 41 tries from the line against Mississippi State. They rank eighth in the SEC in foul shooting (67.5 percent).
TURNOVERS AND FOUL SHOTS
While Frank Martin was happy with his team's win, he shook his head over their continued problems with turnovers and free-throw shooting. The Gamecocks committed 18 turnovers, the fifth time in the past seven contests they've had 15 or more miscues. South Carolina was 27 of 41 from the line, including nine misses in the second half. ''I tell my guys all the time that's how we're going to get beat,'' he said.
Mississippi State leading scorer Gavin Ware was held to six point, 10 fewer than his average, on 1-of-6 shooting. Ware was hampered with two fouls in the game's first minute and never got into the flow. He was the Bulldogs lone starter who did not reach double-figure points against South Carolina.
Mississippi State plays at Missouri on Saturday night.
South Carolina takes on Alabama on Saturday night.