Mississippi State point guard Morgan William drives around Arkansas’ Malica Monk in their game Thursday at Humphrey Coliseum. William scored all 18 of her points in the first half in MSU’s 111-69 victory. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff Buy this photo.
January 5, 2018 10:49:01 AM
STARKVILLE -- Roshunda Johnson can score in a variety of ways.
Whether it is draining 3-pointers with a confident stroke or driving to the basket with poised control, Johnson has provided a dangerous third option to Teaira McCowan and Victoria Vivians for the Mississippi State women's basketball team. But the beauty of coach Vic Schaefer's 2017-18 squad is the Bulldogs have four experienced and versatile senior guards who complement each other to fuel the Bulldogs.
On Thursday night, Johnson, who logs most of her minutes as a shooting guard, showed she has a little point guard in her by handing out a career-high 10 assists in No. 5 MSU's 111-69 victory against Arkansas in its Southeastern Conference opener before a crowd of 5,398 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I love to find my teammates, and I am confident that when I pass them the ball they will knock it down, knowing we have so much depth on the team," Johnson said. "It is just a matter of who is hot.
"It is not easy, but when my teammates are knocking down shots, I guess you can kind of say it was."
Victoria Vivians scored a game-high 29 points to lead five players in double figures and to help MSU (16-0, 2-0 SEC) record its highest-scoring game in SEC history. The total shattered the previous high that came on Feb. 3, 2005, in a 106-98 loss to Vanderbilt in double overtime.
McCowan and Morgan William added 18 points, while Blair Schaefer had 14 and Johnson added 13 to help the Bulldogs put five players in double figures for the fourth time the season.
Arkansas (10-5, 1-1) tried to take away McCowan, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, by using two defenders to sandwich her on the low block. The move worked as McCowan hit her only field goal of the first half late with 1.3 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
After scoring only four points in the first half, McCowan had a little bit more room to maneuver in the final 20 minutes as MSU, which shot 10-for-20 from 3-point range, forced Arkansas to change defenses.
Still, Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors was proud of his players for affecting MSU in the first half.
"We did some things they hadn't seen on film and Vic is too good of a coach and he has too good of a team not to make adjustments," said Neighbors, whose team trailed 49-39 at halftime. "They made adjustments. I thought our kids really played hard and really executed."
Neighbors also praised the play of William, who was the primary benefactor of Arkansas' defense. By doubling down on McCowan, the Razorbacks opted to give William room at the top of the key. The senior point guard responded by stepping into the space and going 8-for-11 from the field and scoring all of her points in the first half.
Neighbors said his goal was to force William to make eight field goals before he changed defenses.
"Coach said before the game they are probably not going to guard you, so be ready to knock down your shot," William said. "I didn't hesitate. I just took it."
Vivians, who finished with nine rebounds, had 15 points and was 7-for-7 from the field in the third quarter as MSU used a 30-18 period to gain separation.
"I thought Victoria took over the game in the third quarter," Schaefer said. "When she makes up her mind to take over a ballgame and is feeling it, she is hard to deal with."
MSU pulled away thanks to a 32-12 fourth quarter to record its fourth 100-point game of the season.
Neighbors, who is in his first season as head coach at Arkansas after coaching at Washington, said McCowan is working harder to establish deep position and to get the basketball. He smiled and said he takes responsibility for "getting her going" after McCowan scored 20 of her then-career-high 26 points in MSU's victory in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last season.
Neighbors also said the other Bulldogs have improved, which makes Schaefer's team a handful to prepare for. He said MSU's defense usually is the first thing that comes to mind, but he said the Bulldogs' offense "kept him up a night."
"They have a 139 in them against somebody. That is how good, how efficient, and how effective they are offensively," Neighbors said. "I think Vic is another year comfortable in the way they are going through the attack with the dribble-drive stuff we have talked about for years. Now he has the weapons. They have depth. He has four seniors and a junior. They know what to do. Some of that stuff is hard. It takes time, and they have really developed a niche. They are just incredibly, incredibly difficult to defend.
"I think they are better than they were last year."
MSU earned that comment even with Blair Schaefer battling through an arm injury coach Schaefer said she suffered in practice earlier in the week. Blair Schaefer said the medicine kicked in and helped her feel better, but she got tangled up trying to box someone out. From that point, she tried to focus on taking charges and doing what she does to make the Bulldogs go. On Thursday, Schaefer's part was going 4-for-6 from 3-point range to help the Bulldogs stay undefeated and to help Johnson record a career high.
"We have great chemistry, so why not keep pushing it when it is hot," Schaefer said. "Just like when Victoria was getting hot, we kept getting her the ball and we extended our lead and Arkansas took a timeout. It is understanding which teammate and when, and that is when your team can really benefit from it."
MSU will play at 1 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network) at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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