- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi State was once again close to knocking off one of the Southeastern Conference’s best teams.

That used to be encouraging for the Bulldogs. Not anymore.

Mississippi State fell to No. 6 South Carolina 71-64 Thursday night. The Bulldogs fought back from a 12-point deficit to pull within 55-54 with 6:25 left, but couldn’t take the lead.

“At the end of the day you lose to No. 6 in the country and I’m sure everyone in the arena thought ‘Man, we’re close,’” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “The kids played hard and we had a chance to win, but we’re not very happy in our locker room because we feel like this was our night to beat No. 6.”

The Bulldogs couldn’t hit enough shots to make it happen. South Carolina’s big night blocking shots didn’t help.

Aleighsa Welch scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and Elem Ibiam blocked a career-high seven shots as South Carolina pulled out a tough win.

Ibiam has 63 blocked shots this season, surpassing the school record of 60 set by Lakesha Tolliver in the 2006-07 season. Alaina Coates added three blocks as South Carolina (21-2, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) tied a school-record with 14 rejections in the game.

Mississippi State shot just 21 of 63 (33.3 percent) from the field.

All of South Carolina’s defensive dominance might suggest an easy game. That was far from the case.

South Carolina appeared to have the game in hand with a 52-40 lead midway through the second half, but Mississippi State pulled within 55-54 with 6:25 remaining.

The game stayed tight until the final minute, when Tina Roy hit a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left to put the Gamecocks ahead 66-59.

“It’s a product of playing in our league,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “There are no easy games. We knew coming into the game that Mississippi State is playing extremely well. They’ve been in every game and it’s only going to be a matter of time before they start winning games like this.”

Mississippi State (16-8, 3-7) lost for just the third time at home this season. Jerica James led the Bulldogs with 11 points. Martha Alwal and Savannah Carter both added 10.

Mississippi State’s offensive tendency to drive played right into South Carolina’s hands. Ibiam blocked five shots in the first half and Coates swatted three more before halftime.

“We have a big front line,” Welch said. “It’s very tough, especially when both (Ibiam and Coates) are going to deal with it. You’ve got 6-3 and 6-4 down there battling. I credit them for being so consistent. That’s the biggest thing.”

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