COLUMBIA, S.C. — The only Southeastern Conference team with a losing record in nonconference play is now on top of the league.
Maik Kotsar scored a career-high 25 points and had nine rebounds to lead South Carolina to an 87-82 overtime upset of No. 14 Mississippi State on Tuesday.
The Gamecocks (7-7, 2-0) lost to Stony Brook and Wofford in November and stumbled to a 5-7 record before they found themselves with two dramatic wins. They erased a 14-point second-half deficit to beat Florida on Saturday and didn't crumble as the Bulldogs (12-2, 0-1) shot 44 percent (11 of 25) on 3-pointers.
"It is what it is," Kotsar said of the slow start. "We kept on practicing."
The lack of passion from the junior from Estonia has puzzled coach Frank Martin for three years. He worried Kotsar might never get past his tendency to be just the fifth man on the court.
"I've been fighting him — in a good way — to believe in himself," Martin said.
Kotsar had six of South Carolina's 12 points in overtime.
Freshman A.J. Lawson sealed the win and may have turned around what appeared to be a lost season for South Carolina when he stole the ball from Nick Weatherspoon at midcourt and finished with an emphatic dunk with 13 seconds left in overtime. The big play came as the Bulldogs tried to get a potential game-tying 3.
Lawson came in as the team's leading scorer, averaging 13 points per game. Before the dunk he had just four points on 3-of-10 shooting, but senior guard Hassani Gravett said the freshman showed maturity.
"Even though he had some struggles, he is able to let that go and move on to the next play," Gravett said.
Gravett added 17 points and Chris Silva had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Aric Holman had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Mississippi State. Nick Weatherspoon scored 17 points, and Lamar Peters had 16 points and seven assists.
The Bulldogs had nine days off before Tuesday's game, and coach Ben Howland said they have to adjust quickly to SEC competition.
"We've got 17 more games coming up like this one," Howland said.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs shot well from behind the arc as they often have this season, making 11 of 25 attempts. But Mississippi State made just 13 of 23 free throws, while South Carolina shot 13 of 17 from the foul line.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had seven more offensive rebounds than the Bulldogs. Howland said South Carolina is the SEC's most physical team and took full advantage of those extra chances.
Howland said his biggest coaching mistake was not getting more rest for his starting five. Each starter played at least 34 minutes, and Reggie Perry was the only reserve to score with just two points.
"I've got to do a better job of using our bench," Howland said.
COMING BACK STRONG
Kotsar was playing in his third game since suffering a concussion at practice that left him inactive for about a week. Gravett said he has noticed a change in the junior.
"I think that concussion helped him out," Gravett said.
Mississippi State's ranking was its highest since reaching No. 11 in January 2005. The Bulldogs will likely fall next week, but their streak of consecutive weeks in the poll should reach 13.
It was South Carolina's first win in three tries this season over a Top 25 team.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs get in-state rival Mississippi at home Saturday.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks host Missouri on Saturday.