Mississippi State earns fourth straight trip to Sweet Sixteen with 85-61 win over Clemson

Aaron Cornia/MSU Athletics.

STARKVILLE – The Mississippi State Bulldogs (32-2) sent their seniors off to the Sweet Sixteen with an 85-61 win over the Clemson Tigers in the second round of the NCAA tournament in front of 9,944 fans.

“In church this morning my prayer was these seniors would have the chance to stand out there in half court when the game was over and acknowledge our fans,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said postgame. “Good Lord answered my prayers and it was my wish. I know how special that is.”

First half efforts set the victory tone in stone. Guard play Schaefer harped on Friday night against Southern improved to his standard. Senior guards Jazzmun Holmes and Jordan Danberry started things early with silencing defensive efforts and setting a fast-paced offense.

Danberry contributed eight points, two steals and a block in the first half. She helped MSU dominate by finding open positions in the lane. Throughout the season, Danberry took advantage of playing through senior center Teaira McCowan, while teams double and triple teamed the 6-7 post player.

Clemson committed 12 turnovers in first half. MSU’s up-close defense didn’t give Clemson space to meet their average of 11 three-pointers per game.

In the first half, Clemson attempted just one three-pointer and shot 38 percent from the field. Mississippi State made the most of Clemson’s 12 turnovers for 15 points in the first half. The Bulldogs led 41-22 at halftime.

Momentum swung late in the third quarter, but Mississippi State’s padded lead kept the Tigers at bay. Clemson outscored Mississippi State 24-21 in third quarter as guards Danielle Edwards and Simone Westbrook managed to make noise from the perimeter while also getting senior bench guard Aaliyah Collier involved.

McCowan shined in the final quarter scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter alone to answer Clemson’s rally.

“From the first quarter, you start with all this energy trying to move me out, after all you get tired,” McCowan said. “I see someone getting tired and I take advantage of it”

McCowan sealed her home finale by swatting the ball into the crowd on a block. She finished with a team-high double-double of 30 points and 11 rebounds underscored by an efficient 14-of-17 from the field. She set the program record for field goals made in the tournament.

Transfer graduate forward Anriel Howard wasn’t far behind with a double-double of her own with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Danberry added 18 points, five rebounds and three assists and three steals.

Four Tigers ended the season in double digits. Edwards and Westbrook both tallied team-high 14 points while junior forward Kobi Thornton claimed the team-high eight rebounds along with 12 points. Clemson ends their dream-like season going 20-13. After turning the program around, head coach Amanda Butler looks forward to continuing rebuilding Clemson for greatness.

“We really approached this year as a discovery process,” Butler said of her team. “The most powerful discovery we had was how special and hearts these kids were as competitors. They are a really special group.”

MSU advances to the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row. The senior Bulldogs finished their home games with a program-record 131 wins heading into the next round. The four seniors have only lost 17 games in their career while making two Final Four trips.

“This is a special group,” Schaefer said. “We’ve said that now for three years and this group and this year is no different.”

MSU heads to Portland, Oregon to face the No. 5-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils. ASU upset the Miami Hurricanes 57-55 Sunday night.

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