No. 5 MSU women open SEC play at Georgia

December 30, 2017 10:50:52 PM

Adam Minichino - [email protected]

 

STARKVILLE -- Roshunda Johnson wasn't satisfied. 

 

Asked Thursday to evaluate her 14-point, five-assist, three-steal effort in the No. 5 Mississippi State women's basketball team's 112-36 victory against Mississippi Valley State, the redshirt guard still found areas that could have been better. 

 

"I think I could have gotten a lot more steals on the defensive end, but I rested a little bit," Johnson said, "but I think I did pretty good." 

 

After 47 games playing for Vic Schaefer, Johnson has developed an ability to master the understatement. It's not surprising, though, considering Johnson played an integral role in MSU's program-record 34 win season and appearance in the national title game in its first appearance in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. 

 

When you have reached the pinnacle of your sport, nothing short of perfection is accepted, especially against an overmatched and undersized opponent. 

 

No. 5 MSU doesn't have any more of those teams left on its schedule. At 5 p.m. today (SEC Network), MSU (14-0) will see if it can build on its second-straight perfect non-conference season when it takes on Georgia (12-1) in Athens, Georgia, in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. 

 

Johnson's attitude is just the kind of thinking Schaefer wants all of his players to have entering the second phase of the season. 

 

Johnson agrees MSU can play harder on defense after recording its second-largest margin of victory in program history. Despite scoring 29 points in the first quarter against MVSU (0-12), MSU allowed 16. The Bulldogs allowed only 10 points combined in the next two quarters, though, which was more to Schaefer's liking. 

 

Even though MSU isn't as deep as last season's squad, the Bulldogs' leading scorers -- Teaira McCowan (19.9 points per game) and Victoria Vivians (19.8) -- are playing at a higher level than 2016-17. Point guards Morgan William and Jazzmun Holmes also have combined to hand out 110 assists and commit only 29 turnovers. 

 

Against MVU, Johnson had a chance to get into the act at point guard after Holmes was saddled with foul trouble. Johnson responded by matching her career high with five assists. She didn't commit a turnover. 

 

With a four-guard lineup that can spread the floor, MSU has excelled at sharing the basketball. McCowan's maturation has made it difficult to stop her in the post, which has helped MSU to operate at a high level on offense. 

 

"I think we're really good," Johnson said. "It just shows we have a lot of depth defensively and offensively. The defense can be better, but we're working on it." 

 

William agrees MSU defense has been good at affecting teams and forcing turnovers (306 for an average of 21.9), but she, too, feels MSU has room to grow on that end. 

 

Offensively, William said opponents have to play all five players straight up, which she said is different from past seasons. The combination makes for a powerful mix that she said takes pressure off everyone because the Bulldogs don't have to rely on one player. 

 

"It's scary," William said when asked how much better she thinks the Bulldogs can get. "The best is yet to come. We have some young ones, but we have four seniors starting and a junior starting, so it is a pretty experienced group." 

 

Just like Johnson has learned to hold herself to Schaefer's level, William understands what her coach wants to see. That's why she was quick to point out Wednesday the Bulldogs haven't been taking charges like they have in past years. Against MVSU, William, Vivians, Blair Schaefer, and Jordan Danberry took charges to raise the team's unofficial tally to 26. William leads the way with 10. 

 

"Today I got a charge (in practice) and he was like, 'One for the world today,' " William said. "He was like, 'We get excited about one charge at practice where we used to get a lot of them. Now we aren't getting any.' " 

 

The Bulldogs have a knack for responding to Schaefer. Schaefer recently encouraged McCowan to raise her level of play and get a double-double in points and rebounds every night. The 6-foot-7 junior center's 41-point, 13-rebound effort against MVSU was her sixth-straight double-double. 

 

If the efforts of McCowan and the comments of Johnson and William are any indication, the Bulldogs could be primed to shift into fifth gear for the start of SEC play. If that's the case, MSU could be scary, just like William suggested. 

 

"We're still a long way from being that defensive team that I want that can really lock a good team down and hold them," Schaefer said. "Everybody is probably looking at us and saying, 'Coach, you have a RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) schedule of No. 3, you're holding people to 50-something points a game, that ain't good enough?' The eye test doesn't work for me. Those are things I just think we can get better at. 

 

"In this league what is fixin' to change is the coaching is fixin' to get better and the players are fixin' to get better. That isn't a knock on who we have played because we have really played some really good teams with some really good coaches and really good players, but it is fixin' to happen every night." 

 

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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.