Mississippi State fights for 71-56 win over Oklahoma State, earns trip to third-straight Sweet Sixteen
Mississippi State heads to the Sweet 16 for the third straight season
— Mississippi State WBK (@HailStateWBK) March 20, 2018
STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer prayed ten times for one thing before his seniors had their last home game against Oklahoma State during the NCAA tournament second round.
“I was hoping the good Lord bless them today with a win on the last time in the Hump,” Schaefer said holding tears back.
Mississippi State fans in Humphrey Coliseum wished their Bulldogs the best of luck after the team closed out with a 71-54 win against the Oklahoma State Cowgirls. MSU claimed its third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen on an emotional and important night for the four starting seniors.
“I can’t say enough about our four seniors,” Schaefer said. “For them to go out the way they did tonight, in that environment and on the stage; God is good. I serve an incredible Lord who blessed us not just with the victory today.”
Oklahoma State and MSU are no strangers to each other. The Bulldogs knew their 79-76 win on December 3 against the Cowgirls wouldn’t cut in the NCAA Tournament. They kicked off the game on a 10-4 run before back-to-back costly turnovers flipped the momentum for the Bulldogs.
After an Oklahoma State run led by Braxtin Miller and Loryn Goodwin, the Bulldogs trailed 20-16. Picking up their pace to outscore the Cowgirls 19-14 in the second quarter, Mississippi State led the nail biting elimination game 35-34 at halftime.
MSU center Teaira McCowan mustered up just four points in the first half. An electrifying offensive piece, MSU needed McCowan to smooth over the resurfacing defense.
“I just had to catch my second wind,” McCowan said. “If they give me the ball, I’m scoring and getting and-ones.”
McCowan’s first half four points skyrocketed into 21 points and 18 rebounds. She collected her 29th double-double of the season. Her presence in the post limited Oklahoma State’s points in the paint to 26 compared to MSU’s 44.
Her versatility that was praised on Selection Show Day arose to the occasion as she trapped lay-ups, controlled the fluidity of the post and Oklahoma State’s center Kaylee Jensen from second chances with ten defensive rebounds. Her performance also moved her in MSU history. McCowan is now third in rebounds with a career total of 937.
MSU also completed the daunting task of limiting star-studded senior Goodwin who owned the first half, leading the Cowgirls’ scorers with 10 points. Her light was dimmed as Morgan William centered her defense on Goodwin, collapsing their momentum.
“The first game, I was able to get some points in transition,” Goodwin said. “They tried to get it out of my hands a lot. They slowed us down in transition.”
William quieted the leading point guard with a smothering defense.
“Morgan dictated the whole game,” Schaefer said. “She locked down and had a much better defensive game then she’s had in a long time.”
William finished with 17 points and two assists. These are the usual stat lines that William pulls off when March arrives, adding another scoring option to the dynamic offense. In a usual scoring match between Jensen and Victoria Vivians, Vivians got the best of it. She finished her final home game with a team-high of 23 points.
“Vivians is one of the toughest guards we’ve had all year,” head coach for Oklahoma State Jim Littell said. “We don’t have a matchup for her. When you can score off-the-dribble, she’s got an intermediate game and she can shoot the three. It makes her a dynamic offensive player.”
After growing into one of Schaefer’s most reliable and productive point guards, she reflected on her time at Mississippi State as a special and one-of-a-kind experience.
“I was really speechless because that was my last game in the Hump,” Vivians said. “Just having everyone there, I can’t thank them enough. It’s just incredible.”
Mississippi State’s final fourth quarter push caved the game in as Cowgirls guard Miller succumbed to a knee injury, opening up the ten-point gap that sustained the 15-point win. The three senior Cowgirls reflected on their time with Oklahoma State.
“Playing in the tournament was my main goal,” Goodwin said while wiping her tears. “I’m really appreciative. I’m really thank that I was given the decision truly changed my life. I’m playing with some of the best players in the country.”
Jensen had the team high of 18 points and seven rebounds in her final collegiate game. Jensen called her time at OSU unforgettable and a moment that she could never forget.
“I didn’t think I would be playing DI basketball,” Jensen said. “I’m glad I finished it off hard and with a great team.”
Mandy Coleman contributed 12 points before earning her fourth foul.
“It’s been a great four years,” Coleman said. “I’m thankful for every opportunity they’ve given me.”
With 24 seconds remaining, Vic Schaefer called his starting five to the bench for the final time in the Humphrey Coliseum. Besides the patch of Oklahoma State orange, the sold-out arena came to its feet and congratulated their players on a historic collegiate career while wishing them luck and love in Kansas City.
He gave them tight hugs like a proud father and pats on the back like the stern coach he is. After four long years of building as a program, team and family, Schaefer could see his work come to fruition. The fruit of his labor was sweet and a special moment he will always have in his life as a father, coach and a lover of Mississippi State basketball.
Walking to the scorer’s board to talk to ESPN, Schaefer and his wife Holly wiped tears from their eyes. The long journey of making Mississippi State a household name and a national prodigy in one of the hardest conferences was complete as the seniors followed his dream.
“They’ve changed me as a man, father, husband and as a coach,” Schaefer said. “They’ve meant to so much to me and this program. They’ve changed me forever and hopefully in a good way. They’ve impacted my life in so many ways. I won’t ever be able to repay them.”
Now that the final home game has passed, Schaefer and the Bulldogs know the time has come to recharge and refocus. The advancing win sends them to Kansas City regionals.
They will face the no. 4 seed North Carolina State who earned their way to the Sweet Sixteen after routing out Maryland 74-60 Sunday night. The Friday night showdown peaks the interest of who can control the guard play that the Wolfpack relies on as Kiara Leslie leads the show.
The Sweet Sixteen game will be aired on ESPN 2 at 6 p.m. CT. The winner will face either UCLA or Texas.