March 18, 2017 6:04:21 PM
STARKVILLE -- There aren't many things that can stop or keep Blair Schaefer down.
The 5-foot-7 junior guard works as hard or harder than anyone in the nation, and does it with a willingness to step in front of bigger opponents to take a charge or to set screens in the lane and get knocked to the ground.
But Schaefer faced a foe Thursday that left her without a game plan. After eating a breakfast of cheese eggs, a biscuit, and fruit, Schaefer said she suffered through a day of stomach cramps she said were most likely caused by food poisoning.
The pain was so bad Schaefer said she couldn't finish about the last 20 minutes of MSU's practice that afternoon.
"My stomach was hurting so bad I couldn't walk without pain," Schaefer said.
Schaefer's stomach still was hurting so bad she didn't go to team dinner Thursday night and stayed in her hotel room to take medicine and hoped her stomach would feel better.
Fueled by half a biscuit Friday morning, Schaefer scored a career-high 21 points as a member of a revamped starting lineup to help the second-seeded Mississippi State women's basketball team beat 15th-seeded Troy 110-69 in the first round of the NCAA tournament before a crowd of 5,572 at Humphrey Coliseum.
The win set up a second-round matchup between MSU (30-4) and seventh-seeded DePaul (27-7), which defeated 10th-seeded Northern Iowa 88-67 in Friday's first game, at 1:30 p.m. today (ESPN2). The winner of that game will advance to the Sweet 16 of the Oklahoma City Regional.
'That kid is tough," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "She has shown it all throughout her career. I am really proud of her."
Coach Schaefer said he called a doctor Thursday night to get Blair, his daughter, a prescription for pain medicine to help eliminate the cramps. He said Blair couldn't do anything but lay down and stay still. He also thought he was going to have to take her to a doctor to get a couple of bags of fluid in her because she wasn't anything to keep anything in her system.
But Blair Schaefer looked like her usual self against Troy (21-11). She hit her first four shots and scored the Bulldogs' first 11 points in a 13-point first quarter. Schaefer played all 10 minutes in the first quarter as part of a starting lineup that featured Morgan William, Roshunda Johnson, Ketara Chapel, and Teaira McCowan. Johnson added 13 points, while McCowan had nine points, 13 rebounds, and four blocked shots.
Victoria Vivians came off the bench and had 13 points in 16 minutes, while Breanna Richardson had 10 points, nine rebounds, and five assists in 20 minutes.
Coach Schaefer said "some things just have to be done" and are "bigger than the game" when asked to explain the lineup change. He said he didn't have any second thoughts about the switch. He declined to say if the five players who started against Troy would start today, or if he would go back to the lineup that had started the previous 19 games.
Either way, coach Schaefer knows what he will get when Blair Schaefer is in the game.
"The Schaefer kid shot it well and she guarded her tail off. She is in the press, plays hard, got ran over, took a charge. That is how it is supposed to be," Schaefer said. "You're supposed to be down there playing your guts out every minute, every second you're on the floor. I think that kid does that. She does it every day in practice. She doesn't have any bad days."
Blair likely would use her Thursday as an exception to that rule. She said she didn't have any lunch Thursday and then had a little bit of chicken noodle soup for dinner. It all led to the first time she could recall not being able to finish a practice.
"I am usually pretty good about sticking stuff out and playing though it, but it was so bad I couldn't play through it," Schaefer said. "I tried to get more medicine. I tried to get Pepto for my stomach, but nothing was working."
Schaefer hoped she would be able to play Friday. She said she has had food poisoning, so she knew she would be OK when it "ran its course," but she said you never know how long a case is going to last.
Schaefer's hot shooting lasted all day. She was 6 of 9 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and had five rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes.
"I definitely had a different mind-set," Schaefer said. "You have to have a different mind-set depending on what your role is for that day. Sometimes it is an attitude that OK, I am going to come off the bench and I am going to fix what is broken or continue what is good, or if I am going to start, I have to do what a starter does and I have to be that player that has that confidence because my team has that confidence in me.
"Hitting that first shot gave me a lot of confidence. It just went up from there. My teammates were finding me and it was working."
The Bulldogs pulled away in a 29-6 second quarter in which they mixed lineups. Troy, which entered the game eighth in the nation in scoring at 82.9 points per game, was 2-for-16 from the field (12.5 percent) in the quarter. It trailed 56-27 at halftime.
Blair Schaefer continued to have a hot hand in the second half. She eclipsed her previous career high with a free throw that pushed her to 19 points with 4 minutes, 41 seconds left in the third quarter. She added two free throws 25 seconds later that completed her scoring. She finished her afternoon with 6:02 remaining in the game and received several congratulatory pats on the left shoulder from her coach when she went to the bench.
"I have a bunch of kids who are really big in the moment, that are excited about the opportunity," Schaefer said. "I thought Blair was big on both ends. I thought she played hard in the press. I thought she played hard in the half-court. Offensively, she got to her spots and, as I tell her, her window is not going to be very big, and when she gets that window cracked she has to get through it. She did it today."
Blair Schaefer admitted her stomach still was a little sore after the game, but she said she felt "great." She said she planned to eat a meal provided by Newk's, a chain restaurant in Starkville that has soups, salads, pizzas, and sandwiches, which was waiting for her in the locker room. She also hoped she would be back to 100 percent today for a chance to contribute to the team's next step to the Sweet 16.
"I have been practicing really hard, and I feel like I am trying to keep my shot very consistent, so I feel like I have been making a lot of shots in practice," Schaefer said. "It just carried on throughout the game, so it was good to see. I just need to stay in the gym and keep my confidence up."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.