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MSU opens postseason play with rout of Nicholls


Mississippi State senior Blair Schaefer (1) is fouled during a layup attempt.

Mississippi State senior Blair Schaefer (1) is fouled during a layup attempt. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch


Adam Minichino



STARKVILLE -- The tapping will reverberate in Humphrey Coliseum until Monday night. 


For much of the first half Saturday, Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer was content to sit on the bench with his arms folded across his chest. 


The pose is one Schaefer usually takes when he isn't pleased. 


On this day, Schaefer tapped his feet as if to burn off some of the frustration that appeared to be seizing up inside him. 


The tapping both feet that was so urgent in the first half continued throughout the second half of No. 1 seed MSU's 95-50 victory against No. 16 seed Nicholls before a crowd of 10,211 in the first round of the NCAA tournament's Kansas City Regional at Humphrey Coliseum. 


"We had a lot of rust to knock off. I think everybody sees that," Schaefer said. "It is my job to try to help get that rust knocked off, and right now I am obviously not doing a very good job. We are really rusty in a lot of areas." 


Victoria Vivians had 20 points and 13 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. Blair Schaefer added 18 points and Teaira McCowan had 18 points and 13 rebounds to her extend her single-season record for double-doubles to 24. 


MSU (33-1) will face No. 9 seed Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. Monday (ESPN2) in the second round. Oklahoma State defeated No. 8 seed Syracuse 84-57 behind a career-high 27 points (8-for-9 from 3-point range) by Jaden Hobbs. The winner of that game will advance to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City 


Nicholls, the Southland Conference tournament champion, ends its season at 19-14. The Colonels were making their first NCAA tournament appearance. 


Even though MSU handed Nicholls its worst loss of the season and posted its largest margin of victory in a NCAA tournament game, Schaefer's tapping was hard to miss in the first half. It started 14 seconds into the second half following a turnover on a held ball and a foul by Vivians. At the 7-minute, 15-second mark, Schaefer was seated on the bench with his arms folded against his chest with his left foot tapping. He was tapping again at the 6:07 mark after another turnover, one of 16 by the Bulldogs. The 16 turnovers matched the number MSU had in an 82-61 victory against Auburn on Feb. 22. It is the second time MSU has had that many since the calendar turned to 2018. 


"We're not very sharp," Schaefer said. "We have got basically 48 hours to figure it out." 


The Bulldogs echoed the thoughts of their coach. Following a 21-13 first quarter, MSU used a 33-11 second quarter to gain the separation that never left it in jeopardy the rest of the way. 


Still, the comfort of the victory didn't leave Schaefer or the Bulldogs feeling comfortable, especially given the "laser focus" focus with which Schaefer said Oklahoma State played with against Syracuse. 


MSU defeated Oklahoma State 79-76 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Dec. 3 in Starkville. 


"We had a lot of turnovers, unforced turnovers," McCowan said. "We just have to get back to containing the ball and not turning it over." 


MSU committed seven turnovers in the first quarter. The Bulldogs have played five games when they have had fewer than seven turnovers. They also have had four games with seven turnovers.  


Vivians, who is two points shy of passing Tan White and moving into second place on the school's all-time scoring list, said the Bulldogs weren't applying enough ball pressure or playing defense like they needed to.  


"I felt like we just weren't focused on that end and we are rusty and I feel like the next couple of days we have to lock down and get engaged," Vivians said.  


Blair Schaefer appeared to be in rhythm early as she was 3-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half to help get the Bulldogs going. McCowan also cleaned up on the offensive boards and kept balls alive to fuel an offense that shot 10-for-17 in the second quarter and 9-for-13 in the third quarter. MSU shot 50 percent from the field (31-for-62) for the game. 


"In the past, we have been really good about our chemistry," Blair Schaefer said. "Our chemistry is still there, we just have to work on all five. It is an all-five game. Right now we will have four or something like that. I think that will come with more focus. I think as a veteran team we'll have that fixed for the next game." 


Coach Schaefer hopes his team's leadership and maturity rise to the top in the next 48 hours. Even though there were a lot of moments he might not have looked pleased, there is no denying MSU earned its 15th NCAA tournament victory, eclipsing the 41-point margin of victory against Troy last season. In that game, Schaefer felt the Bulldogs were a little sharper coming off their layoff from the Southeastern Conference tournament. Schaefer and his staff will spend the next 48 hours trying to get the Bulldogs back to that place and to prevent another evening filled with crossed arms and tapping feet. 


"I think still we share the ball fairly well," coach Schaefer said. "My concern is we have to get back in attack mode. That is something I write on the board quite often in our pre-game. I thought we started out in Nashville (Tennessee) in the championship game settling a lot. The kids know that. I would just like to see us get back attacking. 


"Our threes usually come from transition and dribble-penetrate kick. If all we're doing is throwing it around the perimeter and catching it and finally throwing one up, that is not good. But if we're dribble-penetrating and kicking, now we're breaking down the defense and we're making them help and that leaves our shooters open. I think that is what we have to get back to offensively. 


"Again, I am complaining about our offense and we scored 95 points tonight. I realize we all have set a standard here at Mississippi State that's literally off the chart." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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