December 7, 2018 9:52:56 AM
STARKVILLE -- Teaira McCowan has been a member of enough block parties to know how to use her forefinger.
Following in the footsteps of former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo, McCowan has wagged the index finger on her right hand numerous times to signify the paint is a no-drive zone when she is within arm's reach.
McCowan showed Thursday she is more than capable of using that digit to punctuate a big offensive play, too. After taking a pass from Jazzmun Holmes, the 6-foot-7 senior center scored as she was being fouled by Danielle King. As she turned back to the lane, McCowan wagged her finger in a downward motion to signify an and-one. McCowan completed the three-point play with 1 minute, 43 seconds to give the No. 6 Mississippi State women's basketball the lead for good en route to an 87-82 victory against No. 18 Marquette before a crowd of 7,273 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"It's just count it," McCowan said of the move with her finger. "I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game going in, but I never let that faze me. They went up, and I kept telling the team we're still good, just guard the ball and keep doing the things that we weren't doing, like letting them score. Every shot I got, I was confident."
Anriel Howard scored a career-high 29 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and had three steals. Jordan Danberry added 13 points, and Holmes had eight points and a career-high 13 assists to help MSU survive a matchup that saw the lead change hands 25 times and the score tied eight times.
"What a heck of a game," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "I just really want to congratulate and commend Marquette coming in here. Those kids were unfazed and played just like I thought they would. They are a well-coached team with five seniors all on the same page in everything they did. They played extremely hard."
MSU used its size advantage with McCowan, who had 24 points and 18 rebounds for her 14th-straight double-double dating back to last season. The tallest starter for the Golden Eagles (6-2) was 6-foot senior guard Allazia Blockton. Marquette didn't have a player taller than 6-2 off its bench. As a result, McCowan had the 46th double-double of her career (seventh this season) to help MSU (9-0) win its 45th-straight non-conference game in the regular season on a night when it needed every point.
McCowan was 9-for-12 from the field and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. The effort from the charity stripe marked the first time this season she hit all of her free throws when attempting more than two in a game.
Howard had her best game as a Bulldog, going 13-for-18 from the field and grabbing nine offensive rebounds. The graduate transfer from Texas A&M displayed an emerging offensive repertoire by driving to the basket with either hand, hitting both of her 3-pointers, and being her usual ball hawk on the boards. McCowan also had eight offensive rebounds.
"She is obviously one of the best players in the country," Marquette coach Carolyn Kieger said of Howard. "I think that is a double force with (McCowan to give MSU) two of the best rebounders out there in the game. I was really impressed. She hit two threes. That was on the scouting report to kind of sag off her a little bit. She was attacking left, which we had her attacking right. Everything that we were saying she was kind of countering. That is the sign of an All-American. That is the sign of a great player. She is going to have a great career here and at the next level."
Marquette, which shared the Big East Conference's regular-season title with DePaul last season, had chances down the stretch to tie the game or to send it to overtime. Natisha Hiedeman, one of five senior starters, hit 1 of 2 free throws with 51.8 seconds remaining to cut MSU's lead to 81-80. After a strong baseline drive by Danberry, Hiedeman hit two free throws to cut the lead to one again with 21.7 seconds to go. The Golden Eagles nearly forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play, but Danberry controlled a pass near midcourt and fed it to McCowan, who then passed ahead to a wide open Chloe Bibby for a layup with 13.8 seconds remaining.
"I knew I had to be up," McCowan said. "Coach always says don't run off and leave the ball, so I knew I had to go back. It was two people going towards Danberry, and when she threw the ball, I looked up and didn't see anybody. Nobody from Marquette was back, and I saw Bibby."
Bibby then did her part on defense by contesting Hiedeman's shot out of the timeout with 8.4 seconds left. Hiedeman, who inbounded the ball, received the ball at the top of the key and then picked up her dribble. She leaned in in an effort to draw contact, but Bibby got a piece of the shot.
"She up-faked, and I was going to let her go by, honestly," Bibby said. "She decided to take a dribble and shoot it, and she was still behind the three-point line, so I just tried to get as close as I could and blocked it."
MSU rebounded the blocked shot to set the stage for two free throws by Holmes with 0.6 seconds that accounted for the final margin.
Kieger said the last shot wasn't the one the Golden Eagles wanted and it wasn't the one they drew up in the timeout. King, who had a team-high 27 points on 13-for-21 shooting from the field, wasn't on the floor for the play.
"We were trying to get a couple different screens set before (Erika) Davenport got rid of the ball, but we really couldn't get her open in the spot that we wanted," Kieger said. "We credit Mississippi State for that."
Schaefer also credited his players on a night he said they didn't play their best game and he didn't prepare the Bulldogs for the Golden Eagles' up-tempo attack. Marquette used a four-guard lineup for most of the evening and pushed the ball as often as it could. As a result, the Golden Eagles had a 21-12 edge in fast-break points to help offset the Bulldogs' 54-44 advantage in points in the paint and 20-4 cushion in second-chance points.
"I can't tell you the last time I've had a team give up 21 fast-break points, much less 21 fast-break points and win," Schaefer said. "I think that has to be some kind of record to win a game and give up 21 fast-break points. I knew they were going to push it but, obviously, I did a really poor job this week emphasizing that to our players."
MSU will take a week off for final exams before it returns to action at 6 p.m. Friday against Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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