Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan (15) shoots over Southern University defender Courtney Parson (12) during the first half of their NCAA women's first round game Friday night in Starkville. The Bulldogs beat Southern University 103-46. Today Mississippi State will face Clemson at 8 p.m. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to the Dispatch
March 23, 2019 10:06:45 PM
Midway through the second quarter Friday night, Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State's 6-foot-7 center, got the ball about 20 feet from the basket, turned and fired the first three-point shot of her 146-game career at Mississippi State.
The shot clanged off the basket.
The crowd roared with approval anyway.
In a game the Bulldogs won by 57 points, McCowan's ill-advised and ill-executed three-pointer provided a note of levity in a game that otherwise had the tone of an autopsy.
Mississippi State, 31-2 and top-seeded in the NCAA Women's Tournament's Portland Regional, took Southern University apart in just about every way imaginable.
While the game offered no real suspense, it did provide MSU fans plenty of time to consider, as they soon must, life without the most dominating center to ever take the floor in maroon and white. McCowan scored 22 points and grabbed 16 rebounds while playing just 23 minutes, allowing plenty of playing time for back-ups Zion Campbell and Jessika Carter.
Carter, 6-foot-5, will be back next year and joined by Ole Miss transfer Promise Taylor, also 6-foot-5. But make no mistake, the Bulldogs will look like a different team next year, and will probably play like a different team, too.
Of course, that's a worry for a distant day.
Right now, the Bulldogs are still very much in the thick of their elusive quest for the first team championship in Mississippi State athletics' history and the player they call "Big T" is, quite literally, in the middle of that discussion.
Tonight at 8, Mississippi State will take on 8th-seeded Clemson. A win tonight and it's off to Portland, Oregon, for the regional semifinals and finals, then hopefully Tampa, Florida, for the Women's Final Four and a chance to play for the national championship for the third straight year after previously falling in the past two championship games.
So, obviously, there are miles to go before they sleep, to quote Robert Frost.
Even so, there are opportunities along the way to pause and reflect.
Today, as Bulldog fans wait for the late tip against Clemson and McCowan's last game at Humphrey Coliseum, it's a good time to put McCowan's contributions into perspective.
You could start with her career statistics -- 1,871 points (fourth on the MSU all-time list), 1,463 rebounds (most ever by a Bulldog), 260 blocked shots (second most in school history) and 59.5 field goal percentage (best all-time).
But even those gaudy statistics fail to adequately reflect McCowan's impact.
In each of the previous two years, the Bulldogs have graduated seniors who seemed almost irreplaceable in one way or another -- defensive fireplug Dominique Dillingham in 2017, scoring machine Victoria Vivians last year.
The Bulldogs found a way to replace the toughness of Dillingham and the scoring of Vivians.
What separates McCowan from those players, and many others who've added their own dimension to the team's success over the past few seasons, can be found in opposing coaches' game plans and the hidden stats that have allowed MSU to play defense at a level few can match.
Opposing coaches may have had to account for Dillingham, Vivians, et al, but no opposing game plan has ever focused so heavily on a single question: "What can we do about McCowan?"
With rare exceptions, the answer has been "Not much."
Defensively, McCowan's impact has been equally meaningful.
By her presence alone, Mississippi State's perimeter defenders can crowd the players they guard, understanding that if their player drives past them, it's no free pass to an easy shot close to the basket.
It's like having a lock on your front door and a doberman in your den: Someone might bust the lock now and then, but she won't like what she finds on the other side of the door.
At 6-foot-7, McCowan has never faced a taller player and usually has a height advantage of 2-to-5 inches over opposing centers.
That might not sound like all that much until you consider that women's basketball is played below the rim. While there are many women players who can jump, virtually every true center plays as about as tall as her height and arm span. For McCowan, that "wing span" turns a 3-inch height advantage into a 6- or 7-inch edge. In the women's game, that's almost insurmountable.
Bulldog fans don't need any encouragement to fill the Hump tonight (it's sold out), but whatever else transpires, the game will provide a unique moment: the final chance to see McCowan on her home floor.
Who knows? She might even try another three-pointer.
Asked about that after Friday's game, Big T covered her face with her hands to hide an embarrassed smile.
"No comment," she said, giggling through her fingers.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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