By Gene Phelps
It's not getting any easier for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs (11-4 overall, 3-3 SEC), who dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll this week and have lost three of their last four games, are playing tonight at red-hot South Carolina.
Coach Eddie Fogler's Gamecocks (10-4 overall, 4-2 SEC) have won two straight, beating Vanderbilt (87-83 OT) and Alabama (90-67), and are 8-1 at home this season. South Carolina's lone home loss was to second-ranked Kentucky.
"They are really good," Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said. "I think they're playing as well as any team in the Eastern Division with the exception of Kentucky. I think it's very evident that South Carolina and Georgia are the next-best teams in the division, and South Carolina's beaten Georgia."
The Gamecocks are led by guard Larry Davis, a junior college transfer who averaged 23 points, 6.5 rebounds and two steals in the wins over Vandy and Alabama. For his efforts he was named the SEC's Player of the Week.
"Larry is shooting the ball well," Fogler said. "On Saturday (against Alabama), he passed the ball as well as he has all season. He was able to find the open man when he was guarded."
Fogler, who is in his third season in Columbia, S.C., says his program is "leaving the rebuilding stage and entering the competitive stage."
South Carolina's hosting a Mississippi State team that is obviously struggling on offense.
"There are a lot of things we need to be doing better on offense," Williams said. "We are defending well and rebounding well, up until the Arkansas game, but we know that will carry us only so far. We need to find a way to put more points on the board."
One person the Bulldogs will be looking to more is 6-foot-11 center Erick Dampier.
"We need to be conscious of getting the ball to Erick more," Williams said. "If we throw him the ball it will create more open shots for everybody."