Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer poses for pictures with seniors (from left) Victoria Vivians, Blair Schaefer, Roshunda Johnson, and Morgan William after No. 2 MSU’s 82-61 victory against Auburn on Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch
February 23, 2018 10:56:36 AM
STARKVILLE -- Thursday night was a reminder of all of the habits Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer, Victoria Vivians, and Morgan William have developed in their Mississippi State careers.
Leading by 24 points with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to play, Schaefer could have been thinking about the post-game celebration that was to come for her and her senior teammates. Instead, the 5-foot-7 guard stepped up in front of the restricted arc in the lane and stuck her chest out. Auburn's Tiffany Lewis didn't let up and plowed through Schaefer.
Schaefer's 22nd charge of the season will be just another statistic in the No. 2 MSU women's basketball team's 82-61 victory on Thursday night before a sell-out crowd of 9,474 at Humphrey Coliseum. But Schaefer's willingness to do what she has been coached to do with a game well in hand speaks to the drive and tenacity that have helped make the Bulldogs one of the nation's top teams.
"I think it is habit," said Schaefer, who leads the team in charges taken. "We do a lot of drill work, and when you do stuff like that every day in practice, it is just instinct. But, also, I feel like this senior class understands that even though we are up 20 whatever points in this game, down the line we might not be, so two minutes left in the game we are going to have to make that play, so why not make habits now so they will be good for us down the line."
MSU (29-0, 15-0 Southeastern Conference) took control with a 28-15 first quarter. Roshunda Johnson was 3-for-3 from 3-point range as part of the Bulldogs' 5-for-9 showing from behind the arc.
Teaira McCowan, Vivians, and Johnson led the Bulldogs with 16 points. McCowan also had 18 rebounds for her school-record 21st double-double of the season. William added 13 points and four assists.
The win helped MSU improve to 16-0 at home with one regular-season game remaining. MSU already has clinched the No. 1 seed and a double bye for the SEC tournament, which begins next week in Nashville, Tennessee. Regardless of its finish in the league tournament, MSU likely will receive a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, which would secure a chance to play at home in the first two rounds.
The sellout, which was the program's fourth in a row, pushed the home attendance to a new school record of 113,814 for the 16 home dates. After the game, coach Schaefer honored his pledge by donating $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club. He said "Bulldogs," or people in the fan base, also came together and collected $36,000 to donate. Following the game, Schaefer said another loyal supporter told him he would bring a check for $5,000 to him today to give to the Boys and Girls Club.
Those gestures were additional habits that have been built in the six years Schaefer has been coach at MSU, and have solidified in the last four with a group of seniors that has won a program-record 118 games in its time in Starkville.
"It makes me feel grateful to be surrounded by great people that support us," Vivians said. "It is a blessing."
Jazzmun Holmes had eight points and six assists. Vivians added seven rebounds. Johnson had two assists, two blocked shots, and three steals.
Following the game, MSU honored Johnson, a transfer from Oklahoma State who has been with the program for the last three years, and Schaefer, Vivians, and William. Each player -- and manager Ashley McGlon -- received a frame with three pictures. They also were shown on the video board above the court talking about what their time as Bulldogs meant to them.
Vivians, who is from Scott Central High School, said MSU became her "home away from home" in the last four years.
The celebration was in stark contrast to the one for seniors Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson. Those seniors were honored before the game against Tennessee. MSU then went out and suffered a disappointing 82-64 loss.
William said the seniors remembered that game and didn't want to have a similar feeling.
"The staff reminded us that last year we laid an egg, so this year we had to come out and punch first and finish out right," William said.
Coach Schaefer said he wanted to go on record that he didn't say the Bulldogs "laid an egg." He said the loss was "the biggest train wreck in the history of train wrecks."
On this night, Schaefer led off his post-game remarks by saying, "I don't know of anybody who had a better day than I did today." He went on to say it was a "pretty special day. Senior nights are always a little bittersweet, but tonight wasn't in that it was just a celebration. These seniors deserved that crowd."
Johnson did her part to make sure the night started out the right way. Blair Schaefer made sure it ended on an equally high note.
"It felt good," Johnson said. "I think we were all pretty much excited and let the game come to us. I feel like once we got our momentum going everything else led."
MSU will play at 11 a.m. Sunday (ESPNU) against Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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