The Mississippi State women’s basketball team poses for pictures Sunday following its 76-55 victory against No. 17 Texas A&M at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. The win helped No. 2 MSU clinch its first Southeastern Conference regular-season title. It also is the school’s first SEC title in a women’s sport. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch
February 19, 2018 11:10:47 AM
STARKVILLE -- The first 3 minutes, 9 seconds packed a history-making punch.
As much as Gary Blair and the Texas A&M Aggies tried, the 36:51 that followed proved to be a prelude to a celebration in the Hump.
Senior Victoria Vivians scored a game-high 26 points and had 12 rebounds to lead five players in double figures in the No. 2 Mississippi State women's basketball team's 76-55 victory against No. 17 Texas A&M before a sell-out crowd of 9,933 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Roshunda Johnson added 16 points, Morgan William had 12 points and seven assists, Teaira McCowan added 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Blair Schaefer had 11 points to help MSU (28-0, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) clinch its first SEC regular-season championship. The title also is the first for any women's sport at MSU.
"To be able to do it in front of our fans, it just doesn't get any better than that," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "It is very, very special."
The party on the floor was at least two years in the making for MSU, which lost to South Carolina in title game of the SEC tournament in 2016 and missed a shot to clinch a share of the SEC regular-season championship last season before losing to South Carolina in the title game of the SEC tournament and in the national championship game.
The celebration include a pop of streamers that left Vivians and McCowan like two children playing in the snow for the first time. Later, McCowan and junior guard Jazzmun Holmes tried to soak up the streamers as they rolled around in them on the court.
"(The confetti and the streamers) are always getting thrown in our faces but it is not ours," Vivians said. "It was finally ours and we just tried to enjoy the moment."
MSU's start made it all happen. The Bulldogs blitzed the Aggies (20-8, 9-5) thanks to a 3-pointer by Vivians and two more by Johnson. William added a signature play of the day when she ripped the basketball from Danni Williams on a move to the basket and then went coast to coast for a layup.
"I feel like we punched first," William said. "That is our goal, to punch first every time and to stay on them until the end of the game. She is a left-hander, so I knew she was going to left. I just tried to stay on that hand so she wouldn't get an easy layup and she ended up giving it to me."
Johnson's second trey forced Texas A&M coach Gary Blair to call timeout with 6:51 to go in the quarter and Humphrey Coliseum rocking.
"It felt good, but I couldn't celebrate because it was only like four minutes into the game," Johnson said.
Said Schaefer, "We made shots. We got it going in transition. I think Tori (Vivians) made one or two, Mo got to the rim, but that sometimes can be the kiss of death -- you start shooting threes and making them. That is kind of what happened in the second quarter. We got real stagnant, got real satisfied shooting a bunch of jump shots instead of getting the ball to the rim, but that first three minutes was pretty special. It got the place rockin' in a hurry, and loud.
"I am proud of my kids for coming out ready to play, executing, running some pretty good set plays early offensively, and defensive really being hooked up and not letting them do some things they wanted to do."
MSU's start came with Texas A&M starters Chennedy Carter and Khaalia Hillsman on the bench. Carter had started 25 of 27 games prior to Sunday, while Hillsman had started every game. Blair, who was Vic Schaefer's boss for 15 years at Arkansas and at Texas A&M, said Carter and Hillsman didn't start because they were late to a team function. He said it was "nothing major" but that everyone has rules and that both players were going to come into the game early regardless of the score.
"It wasn't what we were doing wrong as much as what they were doing right," Blair said. "They hit three pretty wide-open threes and they had a steal and a fast break and we missed a couple of easy shots."
Texas A&M committed three turnovers in addition to William's steal and missed two field goal attempts in the run.
The Aggies cut the Bulldogs' lead to 29-23 late in the second quarter, but a runner and a 3-pointer by Vivians, who had her second double-double of the season, and a layup by McCowan, who had her 20th double-double, pushed the lead back to 36-25 at halftime.
MSU used a 26-18 third quarter to extend the lead. The fourth quarter was the last phase of the formality for the celebration, pictures, and ceremony that involved the presentation of the SEC regular-season championship trophy and a chance to cut down a net.
Coach Schaefer said it was even more satisfying to see his starting five reach double figures by playing extended minutes and maintaining the pressing pace for the entire game. He called them the "Energizer bunnies" and said the Bulldogs' effort epitomized the mind-set he has tried to instill in his six years at the school.
"We don't like it when we get out-toughed," Schaefer said. "That has happened on occasion, but it ain't happened very often. I am just so proud of their toughness and their competitive spirit. You just don't do this without special kids and a special team with some special young ladies who understand and embrace the process."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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