Meechie Johnson helps South Carolina hold off Mississippi State, 68-62 in SEC opener

Updated Jan. 6, 2024 3:16 p.m. ET

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Meechie Johnson had a clutch steal and hit four free throws in the final seconds to allow South Carolina to hold off Mississippi State 68-62 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday afternoon.

Johnson scored 15 of his team-high 24 points over the final 11 minutes, hitting 8 of 8 from the free throw line with a key steal and an assist to help hold off the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State never led in the second half but tied the game at 42 on Dashawn Davis' jumper with 11:51 to play. The Gamecocks responded with a Collin Murray-Boyles jumper and Johnson hit 2 of 3 from the line and followed up with a 3 in a 9-0 run with just under 10 minutes left.

Josh Hubbard turned a four-point play with 22 seconds left to get the Bulldogs within 64-62. Ta'Lon Cooper drew a foul with :17 left but missed both free throws. D.J. Jeffries pulled in the rebound, but Johnson forced Dashawn Davis to pick up his dribble well behind the 3-point line, then stole the ball and drew a foul with :07 left. His two free throws made it a two-possession game, then he added two more to set the final score.

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Johnson hit 6 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 7 from behind the arc, and was 9 of 11 from the line to finish with 24 points. Myles Stute added 15 points. South Carolina (13-1, 1-0) hit 21 of 52 from the field (40.4%) and was 18 of 26 from the line. The Gamecocks had a 35-26 advantage on the boards and scored 16 second-chance points on 15 offensive rebounds.

Mississippi State (11-3, 0-1) was 25 of 52 from the field (48.1%), but hit just 3 of 13 from distance and was 9 of 14 from the line. Tolu Smith and Hubbard both scored 13 points off the bench to lead the Bulldogs. Shakeel Moore had 10 points.

South Carolina plays at Alabama on Tuesday. Mississippi State plays host to No. 5 Tennessee on Wednesday.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball

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