Mississippi State kicks off season with 68-53 win over Virginia and national finalist banner ceremony
STARKVILLE, Miss. – After a moving 2017 NCAA National Finalist banner raising ceremony for Mississippi State’s March Madness run, the Bulldogs kicked off their 2017-2018 season opener against the Virginia Cavaliers.
“Lots of blood, sweat and tears,” head coach Vic Schaefer said on the historic milestone. “We’re going to raise this banner and when it gets to the top, it’s done. Focus on this year, this team. We’re putting it to bed and we’ve got a new year.”
The Bulldogs earned a 68-53 win against the Cavaliers as the new team began to find a rhythm of their own.
Virginia’s sticky defense confused MSU early. Their man to man defense kept the Bulldogs on their toes and collapsed small offensive windows for MSU. With a chippy defense for both teams, Mississippi State relied on offensive efficiency to pull away with a victory.
The center matchup between Teiara McCowan and Virginia’s Felicia Aiyeotan tore a hole in MSU’s performance in the paint. Aiyeotan strained McCowan’s usual dominance, holding her to seven points and 10 rebounds on the night. The teams tallied 26 points in the paint each.
“Blocking shots really gives me and my team energy,” Aiyeotan said on her performance. “I have to fight, continue to do all the little things right to carry on my defense into the next games.”
McCowan’s absence of offense created a need for the Bulldogs’ guards to step up to the challenge. Roshunda Johnson and Victoria Vivians answered that call, scoring 40 of the 68 points and dominating the outside perimeter. Virginia head coach Joanne Boyle said the shift in MSU’s team showed a lot about their guard depth and the importance of Virginia’s defensive IQs as well.
“They didn’t worry about where Fe’ [Aiyeotan] was on the court,” Boyle said. “They played one-on-one basketball tonight. They were really spreading the floor, which they do against everyone.”
Vivians led the team tallying for 16 of the 33 points Mississippi State accounted for in the first half. She showed true senior leadership and intuition, showing no hesitation and careful shot selection. An offensive key, Vivians showed how crucial she is to the running office, finishing with 22 points and seven rebounds.
“I was really concentrating,” Vivians said. “We have good chemistry, so there’s no point in taking bad shots. Coach always says ‘make a good shot a great shot.’ If I’m open and they make that pass, I’m going to take that shot.”
Johnson set her sights on a victory early on with an aggressive offense as well. Not far from Vivians, Johnson finished with 18 points and three steals. Johnson finished with the best three-point percentage finish 4 for 10 and continuing to shine as a guard.
“I think it could’ve been better,” Johnson said on her shooting. “I need to just stay in the gym.”
To begin the second half, Mississippi State combed out their kinks coming out with a different approach to Virginia. MSU’s third quarter clean up put the game in their favor, outscoring Virginia 21-14.
After Aiyeotan’s dominating first half, the Bulldogs began to work around her. MSU improved their shooting percentage from 32 to 48 percent and forced 23 turnovers to close out the second half to seal the 68-53 win. As the Bulldogs sped ahead, four of the five starters for Virginia racked up four fouls. Boyle complemented MSU’s adjustment in the second half, also attributing her team’s foul trouble to the loss.
“We didn’t have a lot balance in scoring, putting a lot of pressure on Nicki [Toussaint] to score for us,” Coach Boyle said. “When you want to play at this level, you have to figure it out. We have to play smarter.”
In 29 minutes, Chloe Bibby debuted with 13 points and 3 rebounds. The early success on the team comforts the freshman center as she holds a bright future for the Bulldogs.
“I’m glad I was able to contribute,” Bibby said. “I’m glad it happened and that’s just the game.”
Schaefer said the victory will stand out to them, but there is still much to be done.
“We have a long way to go,” Schaefer said on the win. “When we made our run, it was on defense. If it wasn’t for transition it would have been a long night. These kids played hard tonight.”
Mississippi State will be back in action next Thursday to face the Georgia State Panthers at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT. It will be broadcasted on SEC Network+.