January 13, 2018 2:27:39 PM
STARKVILLE -- Note to crew members for the SEC Network: Sit at courtside at your own peril because you might get hit by a basketball that has been swatted by Teaira McCowan.
In honor of new Mississippi State volleyball coach Julie Darty, who was introduced to the crowd at Humphrey Coliseum, "spiked" would be a better term to describe the way McCowan blocked a drive by Ole Miss' Madinah Muhammad with 4 minutes, 54 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter Thursday night. Fortunately, the SEC Network crew member seated to the left of the basketball stanchion was paying attention and was able to move to his left to avoid what could have been -- volleyball term -- a painful "six pack" or "facial."
McCowan punctuated the block, which sounded solid coming off her hand, by walking to the left off the lane and mouthing a "whoo" to celebrate another highlight in another dominating evening.
McCowan recorded game highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds for her 13th double-double of the season (23rd of her career) to lead the No. 4 MSU women's basketball team to a 76-45 victory before a crowd of 7,161 at the Hump.
"I didn't really realize how hard I had blocked the shot until it came off and I heard the sound and then I saw it fly," McCowan said. "I just impressed myself."
The blocked shot was one of four by McCowan on a night MSU improved to 18-0 and 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference. The victory extended the Bulldogs' winning streak in the series to eight. The 18-game winning streak matches the 2014-15 squad for the second-best start in program history.
Victoria Vivians added 15 points and eight rebounds, while Blair Schaefer had 14 points and six assists to help the Bulldogs shoot 53.2 percent (25-for-47) from the field. The performance was MSU's seventh game in which it shot 50 percent or better from the field.
McCowan played a huge role in the gaudy shooting percentage by going 12-for-13 (92.3 percent) from the field. Many of her baskets came after guards attacked the rim to force a post player to move over to try to stop the drive. Once the defender committed, the Bulldogs lobbed the basketball to McCowan, who is 6-foot-7, so she could keep it high and convert at the rim.
McCowan's shooting percentage tied the school record she set last season against Florida.
"She is one of the best players in college basketball," Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said.
Insell said he didn't know if McCowan was eligible to declare for the WNBA draft, but he said she likely would be a top-two pick if she decided to leave school early. To be eligible for the WNBA draft, players have to be at least 22, to have completed their college eligibility, to have graduated from a four-year college, or to be four years removed from high school. McCowan was born Sept. 28, 1996.
Earlier Thursday, McCowan and Vivians were named to the Top 25 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, which goes to the nation's top women's basketball player. Vivians, who led MSU in scoring in her first three seasons, was on the list at the beginning of the season. McCowan was added to the Top 25.
McCowan has exploded onto the national scene after averaging 8.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a game last season in the Bulldogs' program-record 34-win campaign that ended with a loss to South Carolina in the national title game. McCowan's effort against Ole Miss raised her scoring average to 21 ppg. and kept her rebounding average at 12.7 per game. Her four blocks raised her total to 37. Her 12-for-13 showing from the field lifted her shooting percentage to 66 percent.
With McCowan and Vivians, who is shooting a career-best 54.7 percent, playing like All-Americans, Insell said it is hard to say if the Bulldogs are better than they were last season. He said the proof will come when they have to try to win one more game to complete the March marathon.
"Offensively they are better," Insell said. "Defensively they are still trying to find themselves. They played a lot better defensively tonight, and I knew they would."
MSU coach Vic Schaefer said he was "proud of our defense" after the Bulldogs held the Rebels to 26.7 percent (16-for-60) shooting from the field and their lowest point total of the season. Defensive praise from Schaefer has been hard for MSU to come by this season, but it held Ole Miss (11-6, 1-3) to eight field goals in each half. Muhammad (team-high 14 points) and backcourt mate Alissa Alston combined to go 8-for-37 from the field.
Ole Miss played without senior guard Shandricka Sessom, who was averaging 17.8 ppg. when she suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear on Nov. 29.
Still, Ole Miss cut its deficit to 36-29 on a layup by Chyna Nixon with 7:44 left in the third quarter. MSU responded with a 14-4 run in the next 5:21. The Bulldogs then used another 10-0 run in the first 3:40 of the fourth quarter to put the game away.
"You get an opportunity to make a shot in a seven-, eight-point game on the road against a top-five team in the country, you have got to put the ball in the hole," Insell said. "That is where our toughness has to be better."
McCowan had six points in the first run. Four points came on baskets off assists from Morgan William (six assists) and Schaefer. The point-blank scores were part of MSU's 40-22 edge in points in the paint.
"I thought we responded and showed some toughness in some situations where maybe we haven't in the past," Schaefer said.
MSU opened the game on a 14-0 run and looked like it had a chance to name its score. But coach Schaefer said his team "pressed early" and some players "tried to do too much instead of letting the game come to them."
That's where the presence of McCowan provided an outlet for the Bulldogs when they needed a basket. Aside from the one miss, McCowan took care of business.
"I don't think there is anybody on the Mississippi State men's team that can guard her in the paint, nor on Ole Miss' men's team," Insell said. "I think she is so big in there. She may be the best post player in the state right now. She is a tough player."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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