NASHVILLE — Fred Thomas scored a career-high 21 points Wednesday night as No. 13 seed Mississippi State defeated No. 12 seed South Carolina 70-59 in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Mississippi State (10-21) advanced to a second-round game Thursday against No. 5 seed Tennessee (19-11). The Bulldogs have won three of their last four games, though they had lost 13 straight before that.
Colin Borchert and Roquez Johnson scored 11 points apiece and Gavin Ware added 10 for Mississippi State.
Bruce Ellington scored 13 points and Laimonas Chatkevicius matched a career high with 11 points for South Carolina, which has lost five of its last six.
South Carolina's Brenton Williams, who had scored a career-high 38 points in a 79-72 victory over Mississippi State on March 6, shot 2-for-13 and had just six points Wednesday.
Mississippi State took control by going on a 13-0 run to break a 13-13 tie. Thomas, one of three freshmen in the Bulldogs' starting lineup, scored eight points during that spurt by hitting a pair of three-pointers and two free throws.
Damien Leonard ended a six-minute scoring drought for South Carolina by hitting a jumper and a three-pointer that cut Mississippi State's lead to 26-18, but the Bulldogs quickly recovered. Mississippi State led 32-21 at halftime.
Mississippi State got unexpected production from three-point range. The Bulldogs were last in the SEC in three-pointers per game (4.7) and three-point percentage (.281) during the regular season, but they went 7-for15 from beyond the arc Wednesday while South Carolina was 6-for-31.
Thomas led the way by going 4-for-8 from long range.
"We did a real bad job of passing the ball," Gamecocks Coach Frank Martin said. "We never attacked their zone. I don't want to get to our inability to do things. It's more about Mississippi State. They did a great job. They played with tremendous character and enthusiasm. They're a bunch of freshmen who dealt with adversity all year."