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MSU women set for battle in SEC/Big 12 Challenge


Adam Minichino



STARKVILLE -- Shooters love to shoot. 


Roshunda Johnson doesn't mind being called a shooter, just as long as you recognize she can do plenty of other things on the basketball court. 


But shooting is one of the things Johnson does best, so it's natural she would want to do as much of it as possible. 


That's why she loves the work Morgan William and Jazzmun Holmes are doing leading the No. 6 Mississippi State women's basketball team.  


"It is great when you can play with two point guards and when one comes out and the other one comes in you're not losing anything," Johnson said. 


When asked if the play of William and Holmes means more shots for a shooter, she smiled and said, "If I am open." 


Johnson and the rest of her teammates have been open a lot for William, Holmes, and every Bulldog with the ball in their hands.  


Through games played Thursday, No. 6 MSU (7-0) is first in the Southeastern Conference (22nd nationally) in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.36), third in the SEC (20th nationally) in assists (133), and second in the SEC (24th nationally) in assists per game (18.7). The Bulldogs' 45.9-percent field goal percentage is fifth in the SEC and 33rd nationally. 


MSU will try to keep taking care of the basketball and executing at a high level at 1 p.m. today (SEC Network) when it plays host to Oklahoma State (6-1) in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at Humphrey Coliseum. 


William didn't commit a turnover in MSU's first three games. The 5-foot-5 senior point guard has 43 assists and six turnovers and is averaging a career-high 6.1 assists per game, which was tied for 29th nationally through games played Thursday. She also was second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (7.17). 


Holmes, a junior, is close behind with 32 assists and nine turnovers (4.6 assists per game). 


MSU coach Vic Schaefer said he, too, has been impressed with the ability of the point guards to protect the basketball. But he said he also likes how the Bulldogs are shooting the ball. Leading scorer senior guard/forward Victoria Vivians (18.4 points per game) is shooting a career-best 51.1 percent from the field, while junior center Teaira McCowan is second on the team in scoring (17 ppg.) and is shooting 63.1 percent from the field. 


Johnson (13.6 ppg.) rounds out MSU's double-digit scorers. She is shooting 43 percent from the field and 47.5 percent from 3-point range. Throw Blair Schaefer (9.4 ppg., 40.5 percent from 3-point range) into the mix and the Bulldogs have plenty of options. 


"We really have some kids that have enabled our point guards to have those gaudy numbers because they can finish, they can shoot it," coach Schaefer said. "The turnover number is astounding how low it is." 


MSU is coming off a 94-37 victory against Louisiana on Wednesday at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. McCowan had career highs of 31 points and 20 rebounds in the win, while Vivians had 16 points to lead five players in double figures.  


MSU matched its season high with 25 assists in a game in which it shot 54.1 percent from the field in the first half to build a 56-23 lead. 


The Bulldogs have had 20 or more assists in three games. They also have had more assists than turnovers in all seven games, which explains why the team is ranked so highly in assist-to-turnover ratio. 


Coach Schaefer feels the point guards' ability to break defenses down and draw a second defender has been a key to their success. Even though William and Holmes are averaging a combined 10.6 ppg., he said that doesn't mean they can't score. Last season, William had a career-high 41 points in a victory against Baylor in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, so she has shown she can be a dangerous scorer. 


"I think that position could go get 12 or 15 between the two of the every night," Schaefer said. "Quite frankly, some nights they're going to have to do that." 


Schaefer said William and Holmes have the respect of opponents, so defenses know they can create off the dribble to get to the rim. He said that means the point guards have to remain under control and execute the "pocket" pass to open shooters.  


"I think both our point guards take great responsibility with that and great pride in their passing and decision-making," Schaefer said. "I am as proud of Jazz as any kid I have coached in a long time in her maturity and development. She is taking ownership. She understands. She still is learning and wanting to learn and get better, and coachable. Her maturity has really been evident to me." 


Last season, MSU had 20 or more assists six times. It had a season-best 23 in a 106-30 victory against Northwestern State. 


The 2016-17 season was the first in Schaefer's tenure at MSU that the Bulldogs have had more assists than turnovers. Their 574 assists to 499 turnovers helped them finish 12th in the nation in turnover margin. 


MSU's ability to take care of the basketball also affected its field goal shooting percentage. The Bulldogs' 44.5-percent mark also was the best in Schaefer's time in Starkville, and the first time the Bulldogs have eclipsed the 40-percent mark from the field. 


n NOTES: Oklahoma State is coming off a 94-66 victory against Southern on Thursday. Prior to that, then-No. 12 Tennessee defeated OSU 79-69 on Nov. 24 in the Cancun Challenge. ... Senior guard Loryn Goodwin leads OSU in scoring at 18.9 points per game. She also averages 5.6 rebounds per game. ... Senior center Kaylee Jensen is the second of OSU's three double-digit scorers (13.7 ppg.). She averages 8.7 rebounds per game. ... The Cowgirls have five seniors. ... Today's game is one of five in SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Kansas takes on Arkansas, Oklahoma meets Florida, Georgia faces Texas, and Texas A&M plays West Virginia in the other matchups. ... Last season, then-No. 6 MSU rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Iowa State 85-81 in its first appearance in the event, which started in 2014. The win helped MSU snap Iowa State's 96-game non-conference home winning streak. 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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