S. Carolina 59, Mississippi St. 44

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Renaldo Balkman scored 12 points, and South Carolina overcame a sluggish start to beat Mississippi State 59-44 Thursday in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The 16-and-14 Gamecocks will play 14th-ranked Tennessee, the East Division's top seed, in the quarterfinals tomorrow.

This is the second time South Carolina has won its first-round game in the last three years.

At 15-and-15, Mississippi State had --not-- lost an opening game since the tournament last was in Nashville, in 2001.

But the fourth-seed Bulldogs finished the season failing to win consecutive games against SEC opponents.

Charles Rhodes and Jamont Gordon each had 11 for Mississippi State.

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