February 2, 2018 10:03:16 AM
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Following 22 consecutive wins to open the season, the No. 2 Mississippi State women's basketball team had its perfection tested all night against No. 15 Missouri.
The Tigers led 34-25 at halftime, made a slew of crowd-propelled runs, and Missouri's Sophie Cunningham drilled a game-tying 3-pointer with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter.
But when MSU coach Vic Schaefer called a timeout following Cunningham's 3-pointer, the plan to remain undefeated was obvious.
"We were going to get the ball in, give it to Tori and get out of her way," Schaefer said, in reference to senior guard Victoria Vivians. "You better let your best players go win the game for you."
Vivians made a jumper with four seconds left to give MSU a 55-53 lead and essentially cement the team's 23rd-consecutive victory to open the season.
Blair Schaefer led the Bulldogs (23-0, 9-0 Southeastern Conference) with a season-high 20 points. Teaira McCowan had 17 points and 17 rebounds and Vivians added 15 points.
"When you have other great players around you, sometimes things just come," Blair Schaefer said.
The victory helped Vivians, Schaefer, and point guard Morgan William record the 112th victory of their MSU careers, which eclipses the program record of 111 set last season by seniors Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson.
Schaefer also played a key role in the fourth quarter when she drew a charge that helped the Bulldogs seal the deal.
Earlier in the quarter, Schaefer hit two free throws with 2 minutes, 38 seconds remaining after Missouri coach Robin Pingeton was assessed a technical foul for being on the court. Pingeton protested a non-call following a rebound by McCowan, who then fell to the court.
The performance helped MSU, which faced its largest deficit of the season (11 points), win after trailing at halftime for the second time this season. The win snapped the Bulldogs' streak of 14-straight victories by double figures.
Cunningham led Missouri (17-5, 5-4) with 20 points. Amber Smith added 10 points and nine rebounds. Despite a difficult matchup against the 6-foot-7 McCowan, the Tigers outrebounded the Bulldogs 39-36.
"I'm so proud of my girls. I thought they just really battled their tails off. I thought we competed and our minds were in a great place," Pingeton said. "Mississippi State, there's a reason they're the No. 2 team in the country."
Missouri led for much of the first half, bringing 48-percent shooting and a nine-point advantage into halftime. The Tigers also led the rebounding battle 25-16 at halftime.
Schaefer, McCowan, and Vivians accounted for 52 of MSU's 57 points. The Bulldogs had a cold-shooting night, finishing just 31 percent from the field.
"If our offense isn't going well, we've got to get it back on the defensive end," Cunningham said. "All night we did a really good job on that."
But the Bulldogs used tenacious defense and clutch offense to shed the Tigers' two-minute bust at the end of the game. The victory marked MSU's closest win in conference play. The Bulldogs had previously defeated each conference opponent by double digits.
After Missouri controlled the first half, MSU outscored the Tigers 18-6 in the third quarter. The Bulldogs also won the third quarter rebounding battle 13-6.
"Third quarter was big for us," coach Schaefer said. "Holding that team to six points, boy you're working hard defensively. Offensively, we just found a way to score enough points to win."
MSU will hold another Hail State Hoops luncheon at 11:30 a.m. today.
MSU will play host to No. 7 South Carolina at 6 p.m. Monday (ESPN2).
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