Mississippi State avenges title loss against foe South Carolina to stay undefeated

STARKVILLE, Miss. – The Mississippi State Bulldogs (24-0, SEC 10-0) avenged their 2017 national championship loss with a 67-53 win against the South Carolina Gamecocks (18-5, SEC 7-2) in their best fashion to continue their undefeated run this season.

“To give up 20 points in the first quarter, but settle in for eight and nine points in the second and fourth against South Carolina, that’s incredible.” Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer said on the win where his team limited South Carolina to single digits in the second and fourth quarters. “For us to get down 10 and fight back to have the lead at halftime really speaks to our toughness.”

Mississippi State saw their first advanced sold out crowd with 10,794 attending the rematch. With any move the Bulldogs made, the Hump either screeched deafening praise or mourned at missed opportunities.

“Our fans were spectacular,” Schaefer reflected on the attendance record. “What an environment. The Hump was incredible. Most nights in here it’s loud, but boy tonight was special. To be a part of that as a coach I really appreciate that.”

South Carolina had no problem opening up a good start in the rowdy environment with senior forward A’ja Wilson scoring 12 points in the first quarter.

“It was good,” Wilson said on the crowd’s atmosphere. “It reminded me of Colonial Life [Arena] a lot. It was the opposite of being at home.”

Overall, the Gamecocks shot 63.6 percent from the field to lead the Bulldogs 20-10 in the first quarter, while MSU shot 25 percent. The Bulldogs needed answers from other players besides senior guard Victoria Vivians, who scored eight points in the first quarter.

“South Carolina punched first, and we punched second,” Schaefer said. “We struggled mightily on offense, and we were just not engaged defensively at all.”

When the team needed her most, Vivians delivered a performance that independently wiped out the ten-point deficit. She had 12 points in the second quarter that brought life back into The Hump after MSU’s offensive struggles in the first period. A miraculous comeback for MSU, outscoring South Carolina 19-8 in the second period, left them leading 29-28 at halftime.

“I thought she put us back on our heels and drove the ball,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said on Vivians’ disruptive performance.

Schaefer showcased his depth as bench players junior guard Jazzmun Holmes and freshman forward Chloe Bibby emerged in the win. Holmes delivered defensive pressure that opened up MSU’s offense, changing the tempo to shoot past South Carolina.

Holmes also earned two steals and dished out eight assists where she found Blair Schaefer and Bibby for threes that separated Mississippi State late in the game.

“To play as poorly as we did, Jazz came in and changed our whole tempo and she got us going.” Schaefer explained on Holmes’ impact. “She really affected our team in a positive way on both ends. In the second half, she did the same thing. This is Jazzmun Holmes”

Holmes’ fourth quarter display of doing the dirty work and instinctively finding her teammates pushed South Carolina out of their comfort zone. The Gamecocks turned the ball over, costing them 11 points in return.

In the fourth quarter alone, a combination of Holmes’ defense and six points from her helped MSU close out a 67-53 win. Mississippi State’s first quarter 25 percent shooting blossomed into a fourth quarter 58 percent, showcasing toughness and talent in all five positions.

“They’re more efficient offensively,” Staley said on MSU. “They’re knocking down shots. They’re scoring a lot more this year.”

Junor center Teaira McCowan’s defense continued to shine as she outrebounded Wilson 20 to 14. Of those 20 rebounds, 14 total defensive rebounds gave MSU points in transition. Adding nine points to her performance, McCowan’s thorough defense helped her to break the program’s single season rebounding record with 318 so far this season.

“The points, they’ll come when they come,” McCowan commented on her game performance. “As long as I am rebounding and getting back to them, getting them second shots, I’m cool with that.”

Mississippi State continues to beat the odds and finds ways to win in a dominating manner. Their poise pushes teams to pick their poison, creating more diversions and ways to combat any challenges ahead of them. Diversity and flexibility carried the Bulldogs over the Gamecocks, winning their first game against South Carolina since coach Schaefer’s arrival in 2012.

“We’re winning now in some different ways with some different lineups,” Schaefer said. “We had to go with a bigger line up today. I think it gives up flexibility to give us things and mix match matchups. We’re harder to defend sometimes.”

In their loss, Wilson still earned her 16th double-double on the season, finishing with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Gamecocks junior guard Doniyah Cliney kept the game close with her 10 points and a big three-pointer to close the third quarter with a 44-41 lead before a 10-0 Bulldog run at the beginning of the fourth period.

As they lead the SEC with a perfect 10-0, many wonder if MSU can continue their undefeated reign into the postseason. Only six games remain in their regular season. Schaefer said his team is looking forward to Florida next week and he wants to continue dominating.

“They haven’t always been that way, we’re starting to get that way now,” Schaefer said. “When we put it all together, the defense, the offense, the rebounding piece, then you have the chance to do something really special.”

Mississippi State heads to Gainesville, Fla. to face Florida on Feb. 8 for the second time this season. The game will be aired on SEC Network + at 7p.m. South Carolina plays at Alabama at the same time on the SEC Network.

By the Numbers

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