January 14, 2019 10:25:22 PM
AUBURN, Ala. -- Teaira McCowan said she didn't feel any different Monday night.
Statistically, there really wasn't much difference in the senior's production because she finished with another double-double.
Still, there was no denying McCowan appeared more comfortable and aggressive and, as a result, was more efficient. McCowan was 9-for-10 from the field en route to a game-high 22-point effort Monday night in the No. 7 Mississippi State women's basketball team's 85-59 victory against Auburn before a crowd of 1,908 at Auburn Arena.
"I just know I had to focus on making the stick backs or making the basket when my teammates were giving me the ball," said McCowan, who was coming off a 7-for-16 shooting effort from the field in MSU's 80-71 victory against Georgia on Sunday. The 6-foot-7 center capitalized on her size advantage and the foul trouble of Auburn post player Unique Thompson to snare 10 rebounds (four offensive) and to help MSU win the rebounding battle 43-24. The Bulldogs also had a 44-20 edge in points in the paint. The 44 points was the most the Tigers have allowed in that specialty category this season. Auburn entered the game having won that stat in 14 games.
The double-double was McCowan's 14th of the season and 53rd of her career.
Bench provides production
One game after four bench players logged only 16 minutes and scored one point, the Bulldogs' reserves played a much bigger role.
Freshman center Jessika Carter led the way 14 points (4-for-4 from the field, 6-for-6 from the free-throw line) and six rebounds in 17 minutes.
Andra Espinoza-Hunter played 14 minutes and had seven points. Myah Taylor, Xaria Wiggins, Nyah Tate, and Bre'Amber Scott also contributed to MSU's 58 minutes off the bench. The Bulldogs won the battle of the bench points 27-19.
"I am really proud of our bench," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "I thought our bench played well tonight. I thought they played some really meaningful minutes, and we're going to need that."
Espinoza-Hunter said bench play like the reserves delivered Monday night can give Schaefer confidence to know he can rest the starters and not have things break down. She feels all of the bench players are gaining confidence and growing more comfortable in their roles.
Impressing in other ways
Schaefer said recently that bench players don't need to impress him by scoring. The veteran coach would just as soon see one of his reserves take a charge or assist a teammate by playing help-side defense.
Espinoza-Hunter and Scott were part of a sequence that demonstrated the Bulldogs' bench players understand what Schaefer wants. Espinoza-Hunter started the sequence by missing a 3-pointer from the right wing. Anriel Howard attempted to grab the rebound and put up a shot but couldn't convert. Scott rebounded Howard's shot and missed. The loose ball deflected to the left to the other side of the court, where Espinoza-Hunter tracked it down. The hustle paid off as Carter ended the sequence with a layup off an assist from Jazzmun Holmes.
"I think that's a perfect example of just finishing the play," Espinoza-Hunter said. "I know there are times in practice when we don't really do that, and that probably was a great example of finishing the play out."
Espinoza-Hunter has logged seven minutes in the last two games after not playing against Kentucky. She played five minutes in the loss to Oregon and then played 21, 18, and 12 minutes in the next three games. She said she continues to work on her shooting before or after practice so she will be ready to do whatever Schaefer needs.
MSU, which entered the game leading the SEC in field goal percentage (50.4), shot 52.7 percent (29-for-55) in the win. It was the second-highest percentage against Auburn this season. Tennessee shot 54 percent from the field in a 78-69 victory against Auburn on Jan. 3. ... Auburn recorded 15 steals for its 13th game with 10 or more. The Tigers also forced their 14th opponent into 20 or more turnovers. Auburn has forced 20 or more turnovers the last nine games. The 20 points the Tigers scored off turnovers by the Bulldogs tied for the third-lowest total this season. ... MSU redshirt junior center Zion Campbell had her right foot in a walking boot. ... Thompson entered the game as Auburn's second-leading scorer (13.2 points per game). She had only two points and didn't attempt a shot from the field. She was saddled with foul trouble most of the night and finished with four. ... McCowan was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line to break a tie with Sophie Ratliff for 10th on the program's all-time list for free throws made. McCowan now has 294.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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