Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan (15) shoots a layup ahead of the defense by Clemson forward Tylar Bennett (55) during the first half of their NCAA women’s second round game Sunday night in Starkville. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to the Dispatch
March 26, 2019 11:05:00 AM
The star pupil had simply taken over the show Sunday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
On a night when she battled a stomach ailment, Teaira McCowan scored 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Mississippi State's 85-61 NCAA Tournament win over Clemson. Her 14 field goals broke an MSU record for a tournament game.
And at the end of the night, when just about every complimentary word possible was used to describe McCowan's play not only on this special night but also four years of special nights, MSU head coach Vic Schaefer shook his head in puzzlement.
McCowan, the SEC Player of the Year as a senior center and perhaps the most dominant player in the paint in the nation, had been left off the Naismith Trophy Player of the Year final list.
"I think we all know the impact she has on both ends (of the court)," Schaefer said. "The kid is a heck of a player."
Named as Naismith Trophy finalists on Friday were Asia Durr of Louisville, Megan Gustafson of Iowa, Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon and Arike Ogunbowale of Notre Dame. All of them are guards except for Gustafson, a senior center who averaged 28 points per game this season. She is Iowa's career leader in points (2,700) and rebounding (1,403).
Schaefer has respect for all of those players, but wondered in his press conference what the selection committee did not see in McCowan.
And with the Bulldogs headed for the Sweet 16 in Portland, where they could face Ionescu and Oregon for a regional championship, it just may be another piece of motivation for McCowan, who, along with senior point guard Jazzmun Holmes, has won 131 career games.
"Get her mad. I'm fine with it," Schaefer said.
McCowan, a 6-foot-7 center from Brenham, Texas, has scored as many as 41 points in her career. She has topped 30 points twice this season, including Sunday, and has scored double-doubles in 14 of her last 15 games. She topped 1,900 career points with Sunday's game and has 1,474 career rebounds, numbers that would actually be much higher except she wasn't a starter until her junior season.
In addition to the sheer numbers, McCowan changes the game simply by being on the court. She draws double teams in every game, and that opens up opportunities for MSU's speedy guards. If an opposing team focuses on the guards and leaves McCowan in single coverage, well, just ask Clemson's Tigers about that.
"It didn't really feel like a chess match," said first-year Clemson head coach Amanda Butler, who also coached against McCowan when Butler was a coach at Florida. "You get a pretty easy checkmate when you've got a queen like her back there in the back line."
In Friday's first-round tournament game against Southern, there were times McCowan's feet didn't even leave the floor to grab a rebound. Towering over Southern's lineup, she didn't have to. She had a double-double by halftime in that game.
"She's clearly taken every part of her game - her body, her mentality, all those things - very seriously," Butler said. "But I wouldn't expect anything different from an athlete competing in the SEC."
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