Mississippi State point guard Jazzmun Holmes drives past Georgia’s Simone Costa in their game Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum. Holmes provided a spark in 20 minutes off the bench in No. 3 MSU’s 58-49 victory. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
February 17, 2017 10:50:51 AM
STARKVILLE -- Things rarely have been as tough as they were for the Mississippi State women's basketball team on Thursday night.
Stunted, stalled, stymied -- you name it and No. 3 MSU had to overcome it against Georgia in one of those knock-down, drag-out Southeastern Conference fights Vic Schaefer knows all too well.
But the fifth-year MSU head coach has a luxury few in the SEC do: Depth. When you have 10 players averaging double-digit minutes and seven averaging 7.5 points per game or more, you have plenty of options to go to when something is broken and you need someone to fix it.
Thanks to the handiwork of Ketara Chapel and Jazzmun Holmes, No. 3 MSU was able to find the answers down the stretch to survive for a 58-49 victory before a crowd of 5,431 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"We are not immune to having bad days, bad games," Schaefer said. "We have had some throughout the course of the season. ... (Wednesday in practice) was about what you saw in the game. You have to give Georgia a lot of credit. I am proud of our toughness down the stretch. I am proud of Ketara and Jazz making plays down the stretch and stepping up in a big moment when we needed them. I am proud of Teaira (McCowan), but Teaira has kind of been doing it. She is getting to where she is really comfortable in her role. Ketara has done this throughout her career, more on than off. She hasn't had quite the impact of a 14-point game of late, but to come in and get four offensive rebounds, seven total, 14 points, a steal, and an assist, she really impacted the game in a positive way."
The victory helped MSU (26-1, 12-1 SEC) set a school record for league wins and clinch a top-four spot and a double bye in the SEC tournament on March 1-5 in Greenville, South Carolina. The sixth-straight win also was the program's 13th-straight at home, which is a streak that dates back to last season, when MSU won a program-best 28 games, With regular-season games remaining against Texas A&M (Sunday), Kentucky (Thursday), and Tennessee (next Sunday), MSU has a chance to eclipse that mark prior to the SEC tournament.
Lift off the bench
MSU moved into position to make even more history in the regular season thanks to a season-high 14 points from Chapel, a senior forward who has split time throughout her career with classmate Breanna Richardson. With Richardson having an off-night, Chapel responded by going 5 of 7 from the field and grabbing seven rebounds in 27 minutes, her most since she logged 30 in a victory against Little Rock on Dec. 13, 2016.
"I was just going out and playing with confidence, like coach said," Chapel said. "I need to go out there and play. Bre kind of had an off night, so it is just coming off the bench and fixin' what is broken and playing my role."
After being challenged at halftime, Chapel answered the call by scoring seven points in the fourth quarter. Chapel drained a jump shot off a pass from Morgan William to give MSU a 45-44 lead with 4 minutes, 17 seconds remaining. Caliya Robinson (13 points, eight rebounds) scored on a layup to give the lead back to Georgia, but Chapel hit a layup off a pass from Dominique Dillingham and was fouled. She converted the three-point play to give MSU the lead for good.
Chapel scored the go-ahead basket on a play Schaefer said MSU put in Thursday at shootaround that was designed to combat Georgia's defense against its cutters and shooters. Unfortunately, Schaefer said MSU turned Chapel down or missed her more than it found her.
Chapel didn't mind, though, even if it looked like she wanted to jump up and down and scream and holler for someone to throw her the ball on the low block.
"My teammates probably thought it was a 50-50 pass, so they probably didn't want to turn it over, which was smart," Chapel said. "But Dom made a perfect pass in the second half and I finished it."
William (11 points) followed with a dagger -- a 3-pointer -- that kicked the lead to 51-46 and fueled a game-ending 13-3 run. The Bulldogs hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:39, including four by William and two by Blair Schaefer, who came in after Chapel appeared to get hit in the face grabbing a rebound.
"We are fortunate and lucky to win today," Schaefer said. "Georgia played awfully, awfully well. ... It was a really frustrating night, but it was one I saw coming. I knew it was going to happen. As a coach, you have to deal with and see if they can play their way out of it, or you stay after them and you coach them and you try to punch the right buttons until you get the result you want. These kids found a way and made some real plays tonight."
Holmes shows emotion
Holmes provided a big lift off the bench, too. Even though she scored only four points and had three assists, the sophomore from Gulfport had one of the biggest plays. Holmes' steal off an inbounds pass and layup led to her turning back to the center of the court and letting out a scream.
"It felt great," Holmes said. "I felt like it gave us a little more energy and put us back into the game. After that, we just went with it."
Holmes missed the free throw, but she then fed Chapel for a jump shot off the glass that tied the game with 1:14 to go in the third quarter.
"Jazz has been playing well and getting better and better," Schaefer said. "She is working hard in practice and that is why she is playing better. She is playing with confidence. She has an edge to her and a chip on her shoulder. I could see it tonight, and I had absolutely 125 percent confidence in her. I was going to play her until she got tired. When she did, I pulled her out. When she got her breath, I put her right back in. That is what this team needs. We need a point guard that is accountable, that is going to go out there and get it done."
The 20 minutes Holmes logged were the most she has played since she saw 24 minutes of action against Northwestern State on Dec. 28, 2016.
"I think I just have to lay it on the line every night, no matter the turnovers," Holmes said. "I know coach doesn't want turnovers, but it is going to happen. I just have to let it go and play through it."
Tough defense on Vivians
Georgia (13-13, 5-8) did its best to keep MSU off balance. Coach Joni Taylor's team hounded MSU leading scorer Victoria Vivians into a 2-for-15 shooting effort and limited her to 10 points in 37 minutes. Vivians also had six rebounds. Georgia used an extended zone defense to get out to the wings and deny open jump shots. With Vivians, Taylor said the plan was to crowd her and not give her any space to fire away and get hot.
The strategy worked especially well in the first half, when Georgia limited MSU to six points in the first quarter and led 21-19 at halftime. MSU shot only 6 of 28 (21.4 percent) and committed seven turnovers in the first 20 minutes. On the other end, Georgia outhustled MSU to the tune of 11 offensive rebounds.
"I think our kids did a really good job of keeping them off balance and sticking to our game plan," said Taylor, who is from Meridian. "You could tell (Georgia had MSU out of sorts). You could tell they weren't quite sure and they were a little hesitant. They flipped it in the fourth quarter. I felt like we were a little hesitant offensively and not aggressive and they turned up their energy a little bit."
MSU started to attack the basket with more regularity in the second half. As a result, Georgia was whistled for 25 fouls and MSU hit 23 of 27 free throws. Taylor said that was the difference in the game, especially considering Georgia was 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.
MSU also responded in the fourth quarter by shooting 4 of 7 from the field (57.1 percent) and limiting Georgia to 3 of 12 (23.1) from the field. Georgia also committed seven of its 18 turnovers in the final 10 minutes.
"That has been our storyline," Taylor said of the turnovers in the fourth quarter. "Our point guard, Haley (Clark) does a good job, but she got in foul trouble early and I don't think she ever got herself back in a rhythm. I think she played hesitant on both ends of the floor. It kind of trickled into how we got set and how we ran things in the fourth quarter."
While it wasn't pretty, Schaefer didn't want to harp on what his team didn't do well. Instead, he shifted the focus to his team's defense on a night MSU had its lowest shooting percentage effort (16 of 48, 33.3 percent) of the season.
"I am not sure how we won the game," Schaefer said. "I know the three up here -- Chapel, Teaira McCowan, and Holmes -- had a lot to do with it, but God presents challenges for us every day and today was another one. We are going to give God the glory for (victory) No. 26 and try to grow from it."
More passes into post
McCowan (14 points, nine rebounds) had another strong game after senior Chinwe Okorie had an off night (one point, three rebounds in 13 minutes).
Still, as well as McCowan played. Schaefer wants MSU to do a better job feeding the post. McCowan was 6 of 8 from the field, while Okorie missed her only shot.
"I am going to say we're turning her down some and I am also going to put some on T and tell her I need you to work a little harder for a little longer," Schaefer said. "I want T more active. I want her to work harder and work longer. The kid can absolutely be a dominating player at this level if I can get that motor from where it is now to one more notch, and then go to another notch. I think she has a bunch of levels with that battery. ... I am on her all of the time. I want her to work harder and work longer wanting the ball. That is footwork. That is not holding off. That is moving your body and keeping them in the small of your back. That is what she has to get better at."
McCowan acknowledged she has to hold her defenders off longer to give her teammates better passing angles to enter the ball to the post.
"Most of the time, we don't hold them off long enough, so when one of my teammates throws the ball in they work around us and they get the ball. If we would hold them off for a split second longer, they would be able to get us the ball more."
Breaking the slump
Schaefer said he is "concerned" by Vivians' 5-for-36 shooting in the last two games. MSU's struggles were compounded Thursday by the fact Dillingham was 0-for-7 from the field (0-for-4 from 3-point range).
"I just feel like we have other ways to win while we're trying to figure out a way to get her out of her slump," Schaefer said. "Tonight, some of it was bad shots. I didn't think she took that many bad shots the other night at Ole Miss. I think tonight we took some bad shots.
"At some point, we have to find a way to take better shots, not take as many shots, and do what she did, she got to the line. She went 5 of 6 from the free-throw line. You have to drive the ball."
Schaefer lamented the fact Vivians and Dillingham combined to go 2 of 22 from the field. He said that is a "problem" that will be addressed. He said the way it is fixed is players get in the gym and do more shooting
"As a senior and a junior, you should not have a confidence problem right now," Schaefer said. "If you do, then you have to fix it. To me, that is where we're at. ... Ketara doesn't have a confidence problem. She fixed it. ... I think she is back where she needs to be. The kid can shoot it."
MSU will take on Texas A&M at 4 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network) in College Station, Texas.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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