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This week in the SEC: No. 10 South Carolina barely eked out a win over in-state rival Clemson last night and have a big test ahead

The Gamecocks have their first real test of the season against No. 9 Maryland on Sunday. Plus, a look at the Mississippi State Bulldogs’ defense, how the Virginia Cavaliers showed improvement in a loss, and other SEC happenings this week, plus games for the weekend to come.

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Mississippi State v South Carolina
For Hall of Fame coach Dawn Staley, the path to another NCAA Tournament victory for her South Carolina Gamecocks won’t be so easy this season.
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

All wins are not the same. For the No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks last night against in-state rival Clemson Tigers, the 69-57 victory almost didn’t happen.

The Tigers made a strong defensive push in the third quarter that prevented the Gamecocks from scoring for more than 15 minutes. The Gamecocks, who had led 41-25 at the half, also turned the ball over 10 times in the third period before regaining some steam in the fourth quarter — winning the final period, 20-14 — for a win in a game that had been tied twice and saw four lead changes.

South Carolina is 2-0 to start the season.

Although last night’s performance is no reason to panic, it is reason for concern about their ability to contend against top-tier teams. If the Gamecocks struggled mightily against their unranked in-state rival, how will they do in their first real test of the season this weekend, against No. 9 Maryland?

The Gamecocks are experiencing growing pains due to a change in systems. Without a dominant center like A’ja Wilson, the team is forced to maximize guard play and push the pace. The players’ discomfort with the new system showed all over the box score, with South Carolina scoring just 28 points in the paint (to Clemson’s 46) and scoring 8 second-chance points (to Clemson’s 15). Additionally, the Gamecocks turned the ball over 27 times, and they should take no comfort in the fact that the Tigers turned it over 28 times. Against ranked teams, a narrow victory like the one they got over Clemson very easily could become a blowout loss.

But South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley will not have to start with a blank slate to get more, and different, out of her players. She can help them to build upon their strengths, like the team’s pretty solid defense. Against the Tigers, the Gamecocks blocked the ball 16 times (to Clemson’s 4), grabbed 13 steals (to Clemson’s 15) and grabbed 46 rebounds (to Clemson’s 42).

With only a few days separating the Gamecocks from last night’s wobbly win and their first real test of the season — a Sunday game against No. 9 Maryland — Staley will have to make quick work of getting her players into a semblance of effective execution. And the speed with which Staley can get her squad into a winning formation will determine whether this season becomes one of contending or rebuilding.

Gamecocks in action

No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. No. 9 Maryland Terrapins

When: Sunday, Nov. 18, at 5:30 p.m. ET

Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, SC | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPN

Note: The Terrapins are 3-0 for the season, with two of those wins being demoralizing blowouts for their opponents.


Elsewhere in the SEC

No. 6 Mississippi State continues to win games and crush spirits. On Thursday night, it took the form of a 104-53 beatdown of Lamar, even with the Bulldogs’ star center, Teaira McCowan, experiencing late-game foul trouble. The Bulldogs are still struggling from beyond the arc, however, making 6-of-19 three-pointers. But their defense remains stalwart and vicious, securing their defeat of the Cardinals by grabbing a staggering 64 rebounds (to Lamar’s 32) and blocking 12 shots (to Lamar’s 3). In scoring, going 77 percent from the charity stripe and completing 22 assists (to Lamar’s 5) also significantly helped their cause. If the Bulldogs can keep this up and improve in three-pointing shooting, they have as good a chance as anyone to win it all.

Overlooking the fact that Virginia is 0-2 to start the season, the Tina Thompson-led Cavaliers showed improvement against the Kentucky Wildcats in a 63-51 loss. The Cavs won the first and fourth quarters and dropped the second by only a point. But a rough third period, in which they scored 12 fewer points than their opponent, led to defeat. However, a 12-point loss is a far cry from the outcome Virginia experienced in its season opener — a 72-44 drubbing to none other than Mississippi State. In both games, only one Virginia player scored in double figures: a starter against the Bulldogs and a bench player against the Wildcats. If Thompson can figure out the source of consistent scoring, the Cavaliers could at least make the season interesting.

SEC game(s) to see

Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase featuring

Vanderbilt Commodores taking on No. 2 Connecticut Huskies

When: Saturday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPN3

Note: The Commodores are 1-3 for the season and played their last game on Thursday, Nov. 16. Meanwhile, the Huskies have had a lot of rest, not having played since their Nov. 11 season opener against Ohio State, which they won, 85-53, to go 1-0 on the season.

Results roundup

Here are the results of other games played Thursday, Nov. 15:

  • Alabama clinched an exciting 62-61 victory over SMU, in OT. The Crimson Tide take on Clemson next — Monday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m. ET, televised on SEC Network.
  • Florida Gators are 0-3 to start the season following a 10-point loss to Mercer. They face 3-0 Northwestern on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. ET, televised on the SEC Network Plus.
  • No. 17 NC State secured a 20-point victory over 1-3 Vanderbilt, who face the formidable UConn Huskies on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m. ET, televised on ESPN3.
  • LSU dropped its first game of the season to Tulane, by just two points. The Lady Tigers will face 4-0 Florida State next, on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. ET, televised on ACC Network Extra.
  • Ole Miss got a 62-55 win over Temple. The Rebels, now at 2-1, take on Western Michigan next, on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. ET, televised on SEC Network Plus.
  • No. 12 Tennessee bested UNC Asheville to go 2-0 on the season. Next up, the Lady Volunteers face Florida A&M — Sunday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. ET, televised on SEC Network Plus.
  • No. 18 Orange got past No. 20 Texas A&M, handing the Aggies their first loss of the season, for a 2-1 record. The Aggies have the weekend off but play again on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m. ET, against 2-0 Little Rock, with no viewing information provided.

Click here for more on SEC women’s basketball.