January 11, 2017 4:57:30 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
The Mississippi State women's basketball team earned a place in a very special group of teams Sunday.
In the 30 seasons the Tennessee women's and men's basketball teams have called Thompson-Boling Arena home, the Lady Volunteers entered their game against the No. 4 MSU Bulldogs with a 422-33 mark (92.7 percent) in the venue.
For perspective, MSU coach Vic Schaefer has a 70.4-percent winning percentage as coach at MSU (107-45) and a 54.7-percent winning percentage (187-155) in 12 years as a head coach. Those numbers aren't too shabby, but they pale in comparison to Tennessee's dominance at home.
Schaefer, who was a longtime assistant and associate head coach at Arkansas and Texas A&M, knows all too well about the power of the Lady Volunteers' home court, which is why the significance of MSU's 74-64 victory Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena wasn't lost on him.
"If you look at their overall record over the course of their existence I think you would be amazed," Schaefer said Monday. "For someone who has been in it as long as I have, it just doesn't happen (beating Tennessee at Thompson-Boling). It is really a great win for our program and for our kids."
Morgan William had a team-high 21 points, Victoria Vivians had 20, and Blair Schaefer hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 39 seconds remaining to lift MSU to 17-0 and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference. In snapping Tennessee's six-game winning streak, MSU remained one of three undefeated teams -- with No. 1 Connecticut and No. 15 Virginia Tech -- in NCAA Division I.
MSU earned its latest victory by overcoming foul trouble to starting center Chinwe Okorie, a 7-for-25 shooting performance by Vivians, and the specter of being 0-15 against Tennessee in Knoxville. The Bulldogs erased those factors thanks to a solid play off the bench by all of the reserves, including Schaefer (nine points) and sophomore center Teaira McCowan (14 points, nine rebounds in 30 minutes). MSU also committed only seven turnovers after committing 18 in a 59-51 victory against Arkansas in its previous game.
Still, MSU, which earned its first two victories in the 39-game history of the series last season, didn't celebrate the win like it was a national championship. Instead, Schaefer said his players, while happy, realized they had defeated a good team and that the victory was "another piece of the puzzle" in a season that has larger aspirations.
Schaefer said the play of the reserves was a crucial factor. He said Schaefer, McCowan, senior forward Ketara Chapel, sophomore guard Jazzmun Holmes, and junior guard Roshunda Johnson helped turn the momentum in the final 5:26 of the second quarter. That group triggered a 13-2 run that Schaefer capped with a 3-pointer to give MSU a 41-34 halftime lead.
"I think we have used that script before in that our depth is really one of the strengths of our team," Schaefer said. "We are one of the few teams across the country that has depth, and our depth has won us games before. Iowa State is a great example. Blair hit some big shots at UALR, and Ro (Johnson) has come off the bench and had some big ballgames. The biggest thing is Teaira McCowan played 30 minutes and went up and down and toe to toe against one of the top five inside players (center Mercedes Russell) in the country."
McCowan was forced to play a bigger role because Okorie was whistled for two fouls in the first quarter and was scoreless in eight minutes due to foul problems.
William helped the Bulldogs overcome that challenge by scoring 11 points in the first quarter. She finished 6 of 12 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line, and had four assists and no turnovers in 33 minutes.
"She played really well. She just did a tremendous job," Schaefer said. "She was very good on the floor and did a great job leading her team and did a great job getting players to the right spots."
Schaefer said he was most impressed with William's vocal leadership because she was "demonstrative" in getting her teammates where they needed to be. In fact, Schaefer said William had "an edge to her, an air of confidence" he hasn't seen a lot of, and something he hopes is a sign of things to come.
Schaefer is accustomed to seeing that kind of play from his daughter, Blair. He credited Chapel for setting the screen at the end of the second quarter that gave Blair just enough time and space to launch a 3-pointer over Diamond DeShields that gave the Bulldogs plenty of momentum.
"She is just so tough," coach Schaefer said of Blair. "She has had a broken nose and taken four stitches in the eye and she hasn't missed a game. She also will step in front of a freight train and take a charge. I have always said it is not who starts the game it is who finishes it a lot of times, and she has been on the floor a lot for us. I think the success she is having is because of the time and effort she puts into it. She brings it every day and works hard and doesn't take days off, so I think she is reaping the benefit of her hard work."
Schaefer hopes all of the Bulldogs continue to do the same thing. A win against Florida at 8 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network) at Humphrey Coliseum would help MSU equal the program's best start of 2014-15. He said he will continue to stress the importance of rebounding, especially after Tennessee had 16 offensive rebounds and a nine-rebound edge against MSU (48-39). But Schaefer is confident his players understand the significance of the "little things" like boxing out and the timing of shots because they continue to reap the rewards of their hard work.
NOTE: Fans can celebrate MSU's start to the season at 11:30 today at the Hail State Hoops Luncheon at Mize Pavilion. New MSU baseball coach Andy Cannizaro will be the guest speaker. Doors open at 11:15 a.m. The cost is $12. Fans can RSVP by calling 662-325-0198 or emailing [email protected] ... On Wednesday, coach Schaefer will join Jim Ellis for "Dawg Talk" at the Veranda in Starkville. Schaefer will join Ellis at 7 p.m. for the first of three "Dawg Talk" appearances. Fans are invited to come watch the show in person or call in by dialing 866-998-4893.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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