January 28, 2018 10:24:12 PM
OXFORD -- The game Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer has said was coming reared its head Sunday.
Schaefer has cautioned in the last month there is bound to be a day or a night the Bulldogs' offense doesn't travel and his team is going to have to respond with defense. Aside from Victoria Vivians' game-high 25 points, No. 2 MSU's offense didn't look anything like it has in the first 21 games. Still, No. 2 MSU delivered a strong first quarter on defense that helped set the tone in a 69-49 victory against Ole Miss before a crowd of 5,158 at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
Schaefer said the Bulldogs were "locked in" in the first quarter when the Rebels went 1-for-15 (6.7 percent) from the field. MSU capitalized to take a 19-4 lead that ultimately grew to as big as 26 points in the third quarter and didn't fall below 16.
MSU's defense played a role in Ole Miss committing a season-high 25 turnovers. The Bulldogs turned that into a 23-12 edge in points off turnovers.
MSU also limited Ole Miss to 38-percent shooting (19-for-50) from the field. It marked the ninth time this season the Rebels have shot less than 40 percent from the field.
"State's kids play really, really hard. They try to take you out of everything that you try to do, and if you can get real tough and push through that, then you have a great chance of beating them," Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said, "but we were not real tough to start the game. They got after us. They got up the line. They were real physical, and we backed down.
"As we settled in, I thought we played good again, but you can't put yourself in a hole. Nineteen to four to start the game is just unacceptable."
Ole Miss scored less than 50 points for the sixth time in the 95-game series. The Rebels have scored 49, 45, and 44 points in the last three games against the Bulldogs.
Campbell gets extended minutes
MSU has used improved play from junior Teaira McCowan to fuel its 22-0 (8-0 in the Southeastern Conference) start. Entering Sunday's game, the 6-foot-7 center had fouled out of only one game and had been called for four fouls in one other.
But McCowan was saddled with foul trouble for most of game -- she finished with four -- and had six points and 17 rebounds in 17 minutes. It marked the third game this season she has played less than 20 minutes.
Redshirt sophomore Zion Campbell helped MSU stay on track. The 6-3 center had four points and five points in 23 minutes. She easily would have eclipsed her season-high of 25 minutes against Georgia State in the second game of the season if she didn't foul out with 1 minute, 45 seconds to go in the third quarter.
"I am so proud of Zion," Schaefer said. "She played her heart out."
Campbell also had a blocked shot and a steal in her most minutes since she played 16 in a 76-65 victory against Syracuse on Dec. 21, 2017.
"I just tried to do what they needed me to do: rebound, defend the five player from getting easy looks, and get back and running the floor," Campbell said. "I am just trying to do what we have been working on at practice, hedging better. I got a couple of fouls on the hedge, so I need to work on that a lot."
Schaefer said Campbell "played her tail off," which he said is even more special because she often doesn't get a lot of repetitions in practice. He said Campbell stays ready because she is mentally prepared.
Schaefer acknowledged Campbell has had games where she hasn't everything well, but he said she provided a lift on a day when the Bulldogs dealt with foul trouble to Vivians and McCowan.
"I thought (Campbell) was spectacular," Schaefer said.
MSU brings fans to Oxford
Four buses of fanes were part of the contingent that invaded The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
Fans wearing MSU maroon made up nearly all of the sections in the 100s on court level behind the team benches. Those fans likely were a part of the biggest group of MSU supporters to see a road game this season.
"It is great to go on the road and come here to have all of those Bulldog fans out there," Schaefer said. "They came over here and didn't have a problem spending money in Oxford. They had brunch. They ate, and they had no problem coming here and doing that.
'That's State folks. They are just good folks. That's our people. They are so supportive, but they are also Mississippi people. This isn't about one town or another town. This should be about our state. We have a great state. It is not about, 'I ain't going over there until game time because I don't want to spend any d--- money. Are you kidding me?'
"My job is to put them in the best possible position I can to help them win a game, not take them or your fans aren't (going to the game in Oxford). That ain't what it's about. This is a great state. I am proud of my fans. I am so proud of them for coming over and supporting us. I am sure Mississippi made some money today off of them. You know what? Our fans don't care. They could care less. They were here to support our team and do whatever it took to do that."
Ole Miss regroups
Take away the first 10 minutes and Ole Miss coach Matt Insell had positives to build on even though his program suffered its ninth-straight loss in the series.
The Rebels, who already are playing without senior guard Shandricka Sessom, a preseason second-team All-SEC pick (torn anterior cruciate ligament), had junior guard Alissa Alston for only 16 minutes due to foul trouble. Alston, who entered the game as the team's second-leading scorer (14.9 points per game) was 2-for-7 from the field and had five points.
Alston was one of two Rebels to foul out on a day they were called for 27 of the 51 fouls in the game.
"It kills us when she is not on the floor," Insell said.
The 51 fouls were the most called in a game MSU has played in this season.
Insell said Vivians "took over the game" and "clearly showed why she is one of the best players in the league."
With a game against Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. Thursday in Oxford, Insell said Ole Miss will try to find a way to avoid the lulls that keep popping up.
"I was talking to my fiancee and I think we're the best 32-minute team in the country," Insell said. "We have to figure out the other eight minutes."
Insell was pleased with freshman Chyna Nixon, who had six points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes. He also was pleased with freshman center Promise Taylor, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds for the third double-double of her career. Taylor also had three blocked shots in 34 minutes and held her own when she was paired against McCowan, who was 3-for-9 from the field, which was her lowest shooting percentage from the field since a 1-for-4 outing against Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.
This and that
MSU was 23-for-32 from the free-throw line (71.9 percent). It marked the fourth time this season the Bulldogs have attempted 30 or more. The 32 tied for second most in a game. The 23 tied for second most makes. ... MSU forced an opponent to commit 20 or more turnovers for the 13th time. The Bulldogs turned those miscues into 20 or more points for the 16th time. ... MSU's 69 points was its lowest total in a SEC game. It marked the first time MSU scored less than 70 points since a 67-46 victory against Green Bay on Nov. 25, 2017. MSU entered the game averaging 85.8 ppg., which was fourth in the nation.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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