Shaking off the rust: Even with slow start, Bulldogs blow out Colonels

MSU's Blair Schaefer, right, drives against Nicholls' defense
Staff Writer

For 13 days, the fourth-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs had to sit with the sour feeling of the first loss of the season.

It took two weeks before MSU could shake that loss from the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and the length between games worried coach Vic Schaefer.

While one quarter showed there was rust still on the No. 1 seeded Bulldogs, that rust was shaken off pretty quickly after that. The Bulldogs (33-1) put 11 players in the scoring column and had double-doubles from Victoria Vivians and Teaira McCowan against Nicholls (19-14) in front of 10,211 fans on their way to the second round of the tournament with a 95-50 win.

“We’ve got to get back in attack mode,” Schaefer said. “I’d like to see us get back attacking. I’m complaining about our offense and we scored 95 points. We’ve set a standard here at Mississippi State.”

Vivians led the game with her 20 points as she was sharp from start to finish. The senior from Carthage was 6-of-14 shooting and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. McCowan had 18 points and 13 rebounds herself as State dominated the boards at 51-29.

The first 3-pointer Blair Schafer shot in the game swished the net and she would hit three more of those. It was a welcome sight for her after going 0-for-5 in the loss to South Carolina. She finished with 18 points.
“It was a great feeling,” Blair said of her performance. "I regrouped and got back in the gym and that one game was just a bump in the road.”

The concerns that Schaefer had heading into the first game of the tournament were proved valid within the first quarter of the game.

The Bulldogs had come out flat on the offensive end, turning the basketball over seven times in the first 10 minutes and had a 21-13 advantage. The bright spot in the first frame was McCowan, who had nine points and five rebounds keeping MSU afloat.

“We had a lot of rust to knock off and I think everybody knows that,” Schaefer said. “Right now we’re not very sharp and we’ve got 48 hours to figure it out.”

In the second quarter, everyone else followed.

Blair Schaefer got over double digits with a 3-pointer and Roshunda Johnson followed with one of her own sparking a 22-6 run that had MSU cruising at 43-19 with 4 minutes left in the half. It had ballooned to 54-24 at the break as the Bulldogs had three players in double figures by halftime.

The Colonels tried to get back in the game when they knocked down a couple of 3-pointers to close the lead to 58-34, but MSU responded with an 8-0 run. The 66-34 lead for the Bulldogs with under 4 minutes left in the game only grew from there as they ran away with the first game.

Things went well as the game settled in for MSU on the offensive end. Outside of 16 turnovers, State was strong on that side of the floor shooting 31-of-62 (50 percent) from the field, 9-of-19 (47 percent) from long range, and 24-of-30 (80 percent) from the free-throw line. The Bulldogs scored 42 points in the paint.

Now MSU is shooting for a third-straight trip to the Sweet 16. Standing in the way of the Bulldogs on Monday night at 8 p.m. will be Oklahoma State, which is the team that gave them their toughest game in the non-conference slate this season.

The Cowgirls (21-10) lost to MSU 79-76 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on December 3 and they blew past Syracuse 84-57 in the first round on Saturday.

“We have to play our game,” Vivians said. “If we just play our game, we have nothing to worry about.”