The great equalizer: McCowan leads Bulldogs to season-opening victory

Teaira McCowan blocks a shot for Mississippi State.

Staff Writer

Tuesday night’s debut of the 2018-19 Mississippi State women’s basketball team had the look of a team finding a new identity in Vic Schaefer’s seventh season.

The No. 6 Bulldogs came out rusty and cold with four new starters and new roles being dished out. Southeast Missouri State was fine with that as it stayed in the game because of it for the first quarter, but MSU had the equalizer in senior All-American center Teaira McCowan.

With MSU players in foul trouble and struggling to make shots, McCowan went to work and dominated the paint as she has grown accustomed to doing in her career. When the dust settled, the preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year had 24 points, 17 rebounds and a career-high seven blocked shots as the Bulldogs glided past the Red Hawks 88-53 at Humphrey Coliseum.

It was an easy win for State, but it showed Schaefer just how much work he has in front of him. After the Bulldogs lost their top four guards from a season ago, they struggled to find an offensive spark in the first half and for most of the game outside of anyone not named McCowan.

Defensively was Schaefer’s biggest concern. MSU forced 20 turnovers, but he wanted more. The Bulldogs out-rebounded SEMO 54-26, but there were more left on the floor as the Red Hawks hauled in 12 offensive rebounds.

It wasn’t going to be perfect right away and the coach knows that, but he wants to fix it.

“We got off to another sluggish, slow start," Schaefer said. "It took us 10 minutes to get going. We’ve really got a long way to go defensively. It’s going to be like this for a while. Some of our issues are understanding how hard we have to play at Mississippi State.”

The first 10 minutes of the game were beyond rusty and bizarre for new look MSU. The Bulldogs had five fouls in the first 6 minutes of the game and didn’t get points from anyone outside of McCowan or Anriel Howard until almost 2 minutes were left in the quarter. It all led to a 19-12 lead in which they wanted to improve upon in a major way.

MSU did just that in the second quarter.

Just a couple of minutes into the second stanza, McCowan had already notched her 40th career double-double and helped the Bulldogs push the lead out to double digits for the first time. Chloe Bibby finally got things going from outside with her 3-pointer and MSU suddenly led 28-14. The Bulldogs put the pedal down from there.

State pushed that lead out to 45-25 at the half with Schaefer’s stingy defense and hustle from his team coming into play. At the half, they had out-rebounded the visitors by 15 and forced 13 turnovers without the luxury of Howard for 15 minutes of the half due to foul trouble.

The lead continued to build into the third quarter and Bibby hit her third 3 of the game late in the stanza to push the lead to 30 for the first time at 67-37. Heading into the final quarter, the Bulldogs took a 71-39 advantage into the final quarter before closing things out.

It took some time to get the rest of the team involved in the scoring, but MSU brought things together. Bibby scored 11 points and had six rebounds while going 3-for-7 from 3-point range. Jordan Danberry was also in double figures with 10 points in the game.

Schaefer was most pleased with Jazzmun Holmes’ performance taking over at point guard. The senior had 11 points and had five assists to just one turnovers. Learning under Morgan William for the last three years was key.

“Years past have prepared me for this moment,” Holmes said of taking over at point guard. “I’m prepared for it every day. I learned the offense and my players over the last few years and what coach expects me to do.”

The win was State's 37th-consecutive regular season win over a non-conference opponent and the 36th-straight win at home in non-conference play. The  schedule toughens quickly for the Bulldogs on Friday when they have to travel to Charlottesville, Va., to take on Virginia.

“I know that they’re going to have a couple of really special guards and a big kid inside,” Schaefer said of the Cavaliers. “We’ll have a good feel going in there. I’m excited about taking my team on the road.”