GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Mikiah Herbert Harrigan had 15 points, Brea Beal added 12 points and 11 rebounds and No. 1 South Carolina rolled to its fifth SEC tournament title in six years, blowing out defending champion and ninth-ranked Mississippi State 76-62 on Sunday.
The Gamecocks (32-1) won their 26th straight and should be the No. 1 overall seed — along with the favorite — in the NCAA Tournament.
They proved their superiority once more by running away — the Gamecocks led by 27 in the second half — from the usually powerful Bulldogs (27-6), who suffered their biggest defeat since falling to Tennessee 82-64 in February 2017.
The Gamecocks celebrated as blue, white and yellow streamers fell over the court. The loud, pro-South Carolina crowd — the arena is less than two hours’ drive south of campus — roared its approval.
Herbert Harrigan, a senior who considered transferring last spring, was named tournament MVP as she continued to lead the Gamecocks on their historic run. She had 44 points in the three games as South Carolina won by an average margin of 24 points.
Herbert Harrigan and Beal also each had three of South Carolina’s 11 blocks.
Tyasha Harris had 10 points and 10 assists for South Carolina. Freshman Aliyah Boston had 11 rebounds, her 16th game this season with double-figure boards.
Mississippi State stressed the importance of a fast start in competing with South Carolina. The Bulldogs, instead, were as cold as they’ve been all season.
They finished with their fewest points at the break this season in trailing 38-22. The Bulldogs shot 33.8% (26 of 77), their poorest showing this season.
South Carolina took control almost immediately, opening a 16-7 lead midway through the first quarter. The Gamecocks quickly pushed that to 13 points early in the second period.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer tried to blunt South Carolina’s run, calling a pair of timeouts in a span of less than three minutes.
There was a minor dustup in the second quarter when Herbert Harrigan faced off with Mississippi State’s 6-foot-6 center Yemiyah Morris after battling for a rebound. Both were given technicals.
Herbert Harrigan, nicknamed “Mad Kiki” by Gamecock fans, jawed with Bulldogs starting center Jessika Carter a few moments later.
Aliyah Matharu led Mississippi State with 17 points. Freshman Rickea Jackson, the team’s leading scorer who had 52 points the past two tournament games, was held to nine points on 4-of-12 shooting.
This was also the latest in South Carolina’s run of wins over Mississippi State in big moments.
The Gamecocks’ previous three SEC tournament titles all came with the Bulldogs in the finals. And in 2017, South Carolina topped Mississippi State in the national championship game.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will certainly start the NCAA Tournament with two games at home. After that, it will depend on the draw. A team like Oregon or Baylor that excels in turning tight defense into transition offense could give them a difficult path to the Final Four.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are probably the strongest bet in the field that gets announced on March 16 to make the Final Four. South Carolina won’t have to leave its home state until the national semifinals in New Orleans as it plays the first two games on campus before a return to Greenville for the regional.
Mississippi State await its NCAA Tournament seeding.
South Carolina will head to NCAA Tournament, most assuredly the No. 1 overall seed.
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