January 2, 2018 10:26:46 AM
ATHENS, Ga. -- Caliya Robinson admits life will be hard for post players who have to go up against Teaira McCowan and the Mississippi State women's basketball team.
At 6-foot-3, Robinson is one of the most athletic posts in the Southeastern Conference. Paired with 6-2 forward Mackenzie Engram, Georgia has one of the most versatile front-court tandems in the league.
But McCowan has shown an uncanny ability to negate the strengths of opponents.
MSU's 6-7 junior center continued her hot streak Sunday by posting game highs of 26 points and 13 rebounds in an 86-62 victory against Georgia in the SEC opener for both teams at Stegeman Coliseum.
"There is nothing you can do when you have a 6-7 person with long arms," said Robinson, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. "You try to box her out. It is hard."
MSU will try to continue to execute at a high level at 8 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network) when it plays host to Arkansas in its SEC home opener at Humphrey Coliseum.
Robinson said Georgia tried to use a zone defense and a player-to-player defense against MSU, but McCowan made both approaches difficult by grabbing nine offensive rebounds. MSU (15-0) also forced Georgia (12-2) to make tough choices by going 11-for-29 from 3-point range. The 29 treys equaled MSU's season-high for 3-pointers in a game.
Robinson said Georgia would have preferred MSU to go inside than to hit 3-pointers because it knew MSU had plenty of good shooters. Unfortunately, she said Georgia "messed up" executing some of its defensive game plan.
Georgia senior guard Haley Clark said teams have to take away the outside game if they plan to give MSU the inside game. That is a difficult proposition considering MSU is 13th in the nation in field goal percentage (47.9), 41st in 3-point field goal percentage (36.9), 17th in assists (260), 32nd in assists per game (17.3), and fourth in turnover margin (9.67).
"That is what got away from us. We gave them both," said Clark, who scored all 10 of her points in the first half. "It is definitely pick your poison. The purpose of our zone was to help inside on McCowan so our post players weren't one on one with her, but that gives up threes. We knew we would give up a couple of threes, but we also gave her inside points when we didn't execute stopping her and stopping the outside."
MSU's victory pushed it to No. 2 in the nation in scoring margin (31.4 points per game) and 11th in the country in scoring (86.4).
MSU coach Vic Schaefer praised his team's ability to get a bunch of good looks against a team that had given his squad trouble the last few years. After not hitting a lot of open looks early, MSU used a 14-2 run in the third quarter to break the game open. During that stretch, MSU had assists on all of its six baskets. That run was a part of nine-straight assists MSU had from the third quarter into the fourth
"I think a lot of the shots in that stretch came from moving the ball and Georgia didn't catch up on defense, so we had a lot of gaps that were open and we got good shots," Blair Schaefer said. "Transition also messed them up. They weren't getting manned up with us and we spaced out the floor and we found our shooters."
Morgan William led MSU with six assists, while Schaefer and Johnson had four. Coach Schaefer also praised the play of junior guard Jazzmun Holmes off the bench. Holmes kept the offense going with two assists in 12 minutes.
"You have to make the extra pass," coach Schaefer said. "You have to attack gaps. You have to break people down off the bounce. When we have played them before, we have done nothing but pass it around the perimeter. We have let them kick our butt inside. That was it. I think right now Teaira is playing at a really high level. When she commands the respect that she commands, we have the people around her now that can really do some things offensively."
With Roshunda Johnson going 4-for-8 from 3-point range and Schaefer adding three more treys and Victoria Vivians hitting two, MSU had 19 assists and continued to show a willingness to share the basketball. MSU rebounded from a 7-for-20 shooting effort in the first quarter and shot 53.3 percent or better in the final three periods.
McCowan, who was named SEC Player of the Week honors by College Sports Madness on Monday, has helped balance the attack with seven-straight double-doubles. She said she has the confidence in her teammates to be able to keep making life hard for opponents.
"You have to guard everyone on the floor," McCowan said. "If you leave one player open to come double me, my teammates are going to knock down the open shot. You can't leave them.
"Once they give me the ball and I see the double-team is coming, or I can't do anything with it, I know once I kick it out to them it is most likely going in. If it doesn't go in, I am somewhere boxing out and getting the rebound and putting it back up."
NOTE: On Wednesday, MSU will host its first Hail State Hoops luncheon of the new year at 11:30 a.m. in Mize Pavilion. Later Wednesday, the first edition of DawgTalk with coach Schaefer will air live from The Veranda from 8-9 p.m. following the opening hour of the show with MSU men's basketball coach Ben Howland.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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