Faced with must-win, Mississippi St. hosts South Carolina

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As the last week of the Southeastern Conference’s regular season begins Tuesday for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs find themselves in a precarious position with two games remaining.

First, there’s the business of taking care of South Carolina on Tuesday. The Gamecocks will come to Starkville, Miss., with the intent of breaking their 12th-place tie with Ole Miss near the very bottom of the SEC standings.

While Mississippi State (19-10, 7-9 SEC) has maneuvered itself into a possible postseason position, it’s a far cry from the first five weeks of the campaign.

The Bulldogs were 11-0 after beating Nicholls 68-66 on Dec. 17 and, along with current No. 1 Houston, featured one of the nation’s top two defenses.

But despite an 8-10 mark since that victory, the Bulldogs currently sit as the last team getting into March Madness, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.

The hoops pundit has coach Chris Jans’ squad as the final of the four teams in the “Last Four In” category in his latest edition of Bracketology.

The Bulldogs were boosted by a massive home win over then-No. 25 Texas A&M Saturday, dumping the SEC’s second-place club 69-62 behind big man Tolu Smith’s 17 points, six rebounds and two steals.

The Aggies shot 39.5 percent (17 of 43) in just their third conference loss.

“It was a must-win, obviously everyone knows where we sit,” Jans said. “I don’t know if our defense is great … but we were borderline great today. They were locked and loaded. A&M was as hot as anyone in the country.”

On Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., the Bulldogs close the season against surging Vanderbilt, which sits in a three-way tie for fifth in the conference.

At Tennessee Saturday, the Gamecocks (10-19, 3-13) were blown out 85-45 by the then-No. 11 Volunteers, though coach Lamont Paris’ group is 2-3 in its past five contests and pushed No. 2 Alabama to overtime.

“They have a physical team, and that made an impact on the game,” Paris said of Tennessee. “Their physicality was hard for us to overcome.”

The first-year coach has received strong performances from freshman GG Jackson II, who is averaging 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds this season.

–Field Level Media

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Field Level Media was founded by sports media executives with more than 40 years of combined experience working with the most influential media companies in the industry.

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