Mississippi St Arkansas Basketball

Mississippi State guard D.J. Stewart Jr. (3) dunks next to Arkansas defender Connor Vanover during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Fayetteville, Ark.

STARKVILLE Mississippi State’s D.J. Stewart set an SEC career-high in points earlier this month in a win at South Carolina, and Ben Howland needs another big game from his sophomore phenom tonight.

Mississippi State hosts South Carolina in Humphrey Coliseum at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

The Bulldogs (12-11, 6-8 SEC) beat South Carolina on the road, 75-59, on Feb. 6. Stewart scored 29 points in the game on 10 of 17 shooting and was 4 of 6 from the 3-point line.

Recent struggles

Since that game, Stewart has only scored in double-digits once and has 30 combined points across three games while Mississippi State has gone 1-2. The Bulldogs won their most recent game, a 66-56 victory at Ole Miss.

“He scored in all ways that game. He scored from 3, he scored from mid-range, he scored at the basket and he got to the free-throw line,” Howland said. “He had a magnificent game on both ends of the floor and we need to have a similar effort out of him (tonight).”

Including the loss to Mississippi State earlier this month, South Carolina (5-11, 3-9) has lost five- consecutive games, three of which have been by 15 points or more.

The Gamecocks have been without a few players in its last few games. Sophomore guard Jermaine Couisnard has missed the last two games due to a sprained foot. He’s the team’s third-leading scorer with 9.7 points per game.

Junior Forward Justin Minaya also missed a game, but returned last game off the bench. He’s averaging 7.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Both players are expected to be healthy and play against MSU.

“Those guys being back makes a big difference because they’re two of their best players,” Howland said. “I think they’ll be at full strength and we know how tough they are to play against. Every time we play South Carolina, it’s like a root canal. It’s so difficult because they’re so tough defensively.”

The highly-touted South Carolina defense has not been present during the Gamecocks’ five-game losing streak. After allowing 75 points to MSU, South Carolina has allowed one 81 points in each of its last four games.

South Carolina allowed 93 points in each of its last two games, both losses to Missouri and Tennessee.

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