March 18, 2017 5:59:45 PM
STARKVILLE -- The plan was working.
For the first 10 minutes, Chanda Rigby's plan for the Troy women's basketball team to attempt a shot every seven seconds had it right there with Mississippi State. The 15th-seeded Trojans were pushing tempo and beating the second-seeded Bulldogs down the court. They looked everything like a team that was eighth in the nation in scoring (82.9 points per game) and second in rebounds per game (50.22).
But things went horribly wrong in the second quarter.
MSU turned the momentum by holding Troy to 2-for-16 from the field (12.5 percent) to take a 29-point halftime lead en route to a 110-69 victory Friday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
A 3-pointer by Claresa Banks with 6 minutes, 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter helped Troy (22-11) cut MSU's lead to 35-26. Amahni Upshaw hit 1 of 2 free throws with 3.6 seconds left in the quarter for the Trojans' only other points prior to halftime.
Troy's scoreless streak stretched to the 8:08 mark of the third quarter, when Banks hit a layup to make it 58-27.
Rigby said foul trouble to senior forward Caitlyn Ramirez, the team's leading scorer (13.2 points per game) and Banks, who is tied for second in scoring at 10.3, and an injury to Ripley native Jayla Chills (displaced shoulder) contributed to the Trojans' troubles in the second quarter, which saw the Bulldogs post their second-largest scoring differential this season.
"We didn't change anything during that time," Rigby said. "We were still trying to get shots up. Our three best and our best two rebounders were off the floor during that time. ... We couldn't find anybody who was hot, and there was nobody there really to dominate the rebounds."
Ramirez fouled out with five points, her second-lowest total of the season, in 14 minutes. Banks had a team-high 15 points, but she played only 18 minutes. Chills went down with 2:45 to go in the second quarter after Teaira McCowan blocked her shot. She had all four of her points in 13 first-half minutes. She didn't play in the second half and had an ice wrap on one of her shoulders.
High praise for Schaefer, MSU
While Rigby acknowledged she would have liked a different result against the Bulldogs, she loved the atmosphere since the Hump.
Despite a 1:30 p.m. start time and not having MSU students in school due to spring break, MSU drew a crowd of 5,572, which eclipsed the mark of 5,115 it had last season for the first-round matchup against Chattanooga.
"I believe he learned from his mentor there at Texas A&M," Rigby said, referring to veteran coach Gary Blair. "In the last year, I went to one of his clinics he put on about building a program and marketing a program, and I think Vic Schaefer has done as good a job as anybody in women's basketball in building this. I'm proud of what he has done here. He's a first-class guy, and you can tell there a huge love for women's basketball here, so even though they were my opponent today, I'm very glad to see that. We need more of that. We need him to share how he has done that with more of us. We can all learn from it and build our fan base. That is what we should all be fighting for."
Rigby said she knows Schaefer does a lot of grass roots work to build support for his program. She hopes coaches and schools across the country saw the atmosphere in Starkville and will understand they have to do more than draw up plays and recruit players to build a program.
"I know he does a lot of work that a lot of basketball coaches would not consider to be our job to get that crowd in there," Rigby said. "(He is) out in the community and being creative. He probably has a good marketing team he is working with. But if we want to grow this sport, which is the original reason I started playing that shoot-every-seven-seconds basketball because I wanted to help grow the sport of basketball and make it more interesting. He is doing it from a marketing side and building a fan base, and if we want our sport to thrive, we need more people like him doing what he is doing."
Johnson shines in starting role
A number of nagging injuries have plagued Roshunda Johnson for the last two months.
The injuries have limited Johnson's minutes and left her struggling to find her rhythm so she could return to playing a key role like she did in the first half of the season.
Johnson appeared to be back in the form she showed in double-digit scoring efforts against Villanova, Maine, Iowa State, and USC by scoring 13 points in 18 minutes. It was her first start (seventh overall) since Dec. 20, 2016, against Alabama State.
"I feel like I was playing without pain basically the whole time I was in, but, at the same time, I also have to give credit to my team because they always have confidence in me," Johnson said. "When I am hurt, they are like, 'Can you come back to practice now?' I have to hurry up and get back because you know you have that effect on your team."
Johnson was 4 of 10 from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, and matched her MSU career high with three steals. She moved well with and without the ball and didn't show any signs of any lingering injuries, which is a good sign if coach Schaefer intends to stick with a Johnson in the starting lineup with Blair Schaefer, Morgan William, Teaira McCowan, and Ketara Chapel.
"It doesn't matter who the starting five is," Johnson said. "Everybody has chemistry, and you play how you practice. If you have chemistry, it doesn't matter who starts. ... It is just play your game and play as a team, and that's what we did."
MSU continued the record-breaking theme of the 2016-17 season by adding to the list.
MSU's highest-scoring game of the season also turned out to be its highest-scoring NCAA tournament in program history. It also recorded the largest margin of victory in its NCAA tournament victories.
Freshman forward Ameshya Williams had a career-high 15 points and tied a career high with three blocked shots.
Senior forward Breanna Richardson had a career-high five assists.
This and that
MSU tied a school NCAA tournament best with 12 3-pointers. The 12 treys were the most in a game this season. MSU was 0-for-15 from 3-point range in its last game, a 59-49 loss to South Carolina in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament. ... The 22 3-pointers attempted were the second most the Bulldogs have attempted in a game. ... The Bulldogs were 26-for-39 from the free-throw line. The 26 makes were the second most this season, while the 39 attempts also were the second-highest total. ... MSU won the rebounding battle 61-48. The 61 rebounds were the Bulldogs' most in a game this season, and the most surrendered by the Trojans. Their 27 offensive rebounds were the second-highest total in a game. They also allowed a season-high 23 offensive rebounds to the Trojans, who were outrebounded for the ninth time this season. The minus-13 margin was the Trojans' largest differential. ... MSU had 22 assists, its second-highest total this season. It marked the sixth time the Bulldogs have handed out 20 or more assists in a game this season. ... Troy committed 28 turnovers, its second-highest total in a game this season. ... The Trojans' 31.3-percent effort from the field (25-for-80) was their fourth-lowest shooting percentage of the season. ... The Trojans were 5-for-31 from 3-point range, the fifth time they have made five or fewer treys in a game this season. The 16.1-percent 3-point shooting percentage was their second-lowest mark of the season. ... MSU was 36-for-82 from the field (43.9 percent). The 82 shots were the second most attempted in a game this season.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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