March 17, 2017 9:53:11 PM
STARKVILLE -- Blair Schaefer saved her best game of the season for the sport's biggest stage.
Schaefer scored her team's first 11 points en route to a career-high 21-point effort Friday afternoon to lead the second-seeded Mississippi State women's basketball team to a 110-69 victory against 15th-seeded Troy before a crowd of 5,572 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Freshman forward Ameshya Williams had a career-high 15 points and five rebounds and three blocked shots, while Roshunda Johnson and Victoria Vivians added 13 points to help MSU (30-4) reach 30 victories in a season for the first time in school history.
The win, coupled with seventh-seeded DePaul's 88-67 victory against 10th-seeded Northern Iowa, set up a matchup between MSU and DePaul at a time to be determined Sunday at the Hump. The winner of that game will advance to the Sweet 16 of the Oklahoma City Regional.
"Really proud of my team and my university today," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "We had 5,500 on a Friday afternoon, and that is pretty dog-gone special. The electricity in that building makes it special. It starts with the university, the administration, the fans. Our basketball team was really good today."
Coach Schaefer shuffled his starting lineup and inserted his daughter, Blair, for her second start of the season. Teaira McCowan (nine points, 13 rebounds, four blocked shots) also earned her first start of the season and joined Morgan William, Ketara Chapel, and Johnson in the starting lineup.
Vivians, the team's leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, had started every game in her MSU career. She was 5-for-11 from the field and had six rebounds in 16 minutes.
Dominique Dillingham (seven points), Breanna Richardson (10 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals), and Chinwe Okorie (six points, five rebounds), who were listed as probable starters before the game, played 11, 20, and 16 minutes, respectively.
"It did (have its desired effect)," Schaefer said when asked about the lineup changes. "It worked fine."
Schaefer said "some things just have to be done" and are "bigger than the game." He said he didn't have any second thoughts about changing his starting lineup in an elimination game. He declined to say if he would stick with the starting five against Troy or if he would go back to the lineup that had started the previous 19 games.
"I think everybody responded today," Schaefer said. "I think you have got to find a way to keep an edge. This is an important time of the year. This is serious. People have got a lot invested in you. ... I coach one through 13 equally as hard. I don't like people getting beat in transition. I don't like people walking up and down the floor, and I don't like people jogging. I sure don't like it at home.
"I just take a lot of pride in how we play the game, and I always have. Y'all understand the pride Vic Schaefer has in this university, this program, and in his kids. I am not going to stop coaching for a minute or a second at any point during the season, and I am not going to stop teaching. That is really the charge I have been given. I want our kids to continue to honor and respect the game, and play the game the way it is supposed to be played. There were a lot of people in the building today. They paid a lot of money for that ticket. By gosh, I want to do things the right way."
Blair Schaefer made sure she did her part by hitting her first four shots. She played the whole first quarter and finished with 13 points.
"My shots were just falling," said Schaefer, who was sick all day Thursday. "I have been in the gym and my teammates give me a lot of confidence. I have always been told my window is not going to be very big, and I took my window today and it just worked."
MSU used a 29-6 second quarter to take control and pull away for its highest-scoring game of the season, its highest point total in a NCAA tournament game, and its largest margin of victory in a NCAA tournament game.
Blair Schaefer hadn't played 20 or more minutes since Jan. 12 in a victory against Florida. She had only three double-figure scoring games entering the matchup against Troy, but she said she and the rest of her teammates on the white team had been playing well all week, so they were ready for their opportunity.
"We got our chemistry right off the bat with Morgan, and we dominated this week in practice," Schaefer said. "I think we realized what we can do together is really special, and we both have a good feeling of where we are on the floor, so I think that was something that stuck with us this week."
Troy coach Chanda Rigby said the Trojans expected to see the starting lineup the Bulldogs had used for the last two months. She said the Trojans had planned to use a "man-to-man special" and were going to "deny the ball to their best player (Vivians)."
Schaefer's hot hand ruined those plans.
"If we knew Blair was going to come out and hit her first three or four shots, we would've stayed in it on her, but we had no way of knowing that," Rigby said. "That wasn't in any scouting report, so we had no idea that was going to happen. So yeah, it changed what we were doing."
Troy senior forward Caitlyn Ramirez, who fouled out with five points and four rebounds in 14 minutes, said the Trojans didn't change their mind-set when they found out the Bulldogs were going with a different starting lineup.
"We still were going to take it to them either way, so we hung in there for a little bit," said Ramirez, who entered the game as Troy's leading scorer (13.2 per game) and rebounder (10.6). "We noticed they ended up putting their five starters back in because they noticed we were hanging around a little too much. We just knew we had to take it to them either way."
Senior guard Claresa Banks, who is from Jackson and attended Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, led Troy with 15 points.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.