On Monday night, the faithful fans of Mississippi State University created an exhilarating atmosphere as the No. 2 Bulldogs defeated No. 7 University of South Carolina 67-53, avenging their loss to the Gamecocks in last year’s National Championship game.
The Bulldogs played in front of a record-breaking crowd of 10,794, the largest crowd to watch a basketball game in the arena, men’s or women’s. The hype surrounding the game surpassed most of the football games last season.
Head coach Vic Schaefer praised the fans after the game.
“We probably don’t beat them today if we are not at home,” Schaefer said. “Our fans are just spectacular. What an environment for both teams to get to play in. The Hump was just incredible. Most nights it is loud in there, but boy, tonight was special.”
Despite the stage being set for an all-time great game, MSU came out lethargic, playing a lot of ISO ball on offense and taking poor shots. The result was a 20-10 deficit at the end of the first quarter.
The biggest problem for MSU was South Carolina’s forward A’ja Wilson, who scored 12 points in the first quarter and had 18 at half. She finished the game 10-20 from the field and with 25 points.
Victoria Vivians took over in the second quarter. With MSU down 12, she hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead in half.
Vivians did not say she was trying to take over the game, she just got open looks and took them.
Vivians, a senior from Carthage, went on a tear by scoring 12 points in the second period, and walked into halftime with 20 of MSU’s 29 points. Vivians finished the game 8-24 from the field, and scored 24 points.
MSU took a 29-28 lead into halftime.
Coach Schaefer praised the way his team bounced back. He said he has seen leads get out of hand, and was proud of the way MSU settled in.
“It could have gone from 10 to 20 and been over,” Schaefer said. “I have seen that happen. That could have happened, but it did not tonight.”
MSU struggled in the third quarter as they were outscored 16-10 in the third, and trailed by 44-39 at the end of the third quarter.
With Vivians held to only four points after halftime, it was the x-factors of Blair Schaefer, Chloe Bibby and Jazzmun Holmes who played lights out to close the game. Bibby and Holmes played spectacular defense, as Holmes finished the game with two steals and caused Carolina’s primary ball handler problems to close the game.
Bibby replaced the smaller Roshunda Johnson in the line-up and played help defense on Wilson. The combination of Bibby and Teaira McCowan held Wilson to seven points after the half.
“Chloe (Bibby) was really, really special,” coach Schaefer said. “I just thought she competed defensively with what we were trying to do.”
The younger Schaefer was clutch down the stretch. She scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including back-to-back threes, sending the 10,574 in attendance into a frenzy.
“Our crowd was awesome,” Blair Schaefer said. “The fact that so many people came out to this game and that some of the people who came to this game were not from Starkville. That is so special.”
Despite struggling to score, McCowan found other ways to effect the game. She scored nine points, but grabbed an astounding 20 rebounds. The 20 rebounds put her at 318 for the season, a new school record for rebounds in a season.
“Points they will come when they come,” McCowan said. “As long as I am rebounding, getting it to them (her teammates), getting them shots. I am cool with that.”
The win effectively gives MSU the SEC regular season crown. The Bulldogs will need to win five more games to mathematically win the outright title (assuming their competition remains undefeated), but now MSU will be heavy favorites over every team they play to close out the season.
However, Blair Schaefer feels like they could meet South Carolina once again in the SEC Tournament or NCAA Tournament.
“We’re probably going to have to play them again,” Blair Schaefer said. “They are that good.”
MSU’s next game will be at Florida on Thursday, tipoff is set for 6 p.m., and the SEC Network will broadcast the game. Their next home game is on Feb. 11, against Kentucky. Tipoff is 1 p.m., and MSU ESPNU will broadcast the game.