JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Too much size. Too much experience.
Those factors ultimately proved to be too much for the Mississippi State women’s basketball team to overcome in its second trip to the Southeastern Conference tournament title game.
Tiffany Mitchell and A’ja Wilson tied for team high-scoring honors with 19 points Sunday to lead No. 3 and top-seeded South Carolina to a 66-52 victory against No. 16 and third-seeded MSU before a crowd of 6,549 in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament at Veterans Memorial Arena.
“It means a great deal,” said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, whose team went 16-0 in the regular season and 3-0 in Jacksonville. “It means that we put our names in the history book in this traditionally rich conference. It means that our players have put in the work to be amongst one of the top teams in this conference. Hopefully, we can continue.”
Khadijah Sessions added 11 points to help South Carolina (31-1) win its second-consecutive SEC tournament title on the heels of its third regular-season title.
Victoria Vivians led all scorers with 26 points for MSU (26-7), which, like South Carolina, was playing its third game in three days.
“I’m proud of my basketball team,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. “We’re disappointed. I don’t think we probably executed defensively like we like to. I think we feel the game got away from us about four minutes left in the first half. It kind of stayed there the rest of the way.”
Morgan William (nine point, six assists) hit a jump shot off an assist from Breanna Richardson to cut South Carolina’s lead to 22-21 with 5 minutes, 35 seconds left in the second quarter. The Gamecocks then went on an 11-0 run to take a 33-21 lead at halftime. The Bulldogs finished the half 0-for-6 from the field with three turnovers.
MSU cut the deficit to nine points twice in the third quarter and to 10 points in the fourth quarter. It had two chances to cut into that fourth-quarter hole, but it committed two turnovers and didn’t get any closer the rest of the way. MSU finished with 16 turnovers and shot 38 percent (19 of 50) from the field.
“I feel like they played defense a little bit harder,” said William, who played 40 minutes and tied a season high with seven turnovers. “At our place, our posts really maintained, did a better job, guarding, too, attacking. They were playing to win it right when they stepped on the court. They had something to play for. They didn’t take us lightly. At our place, (they seemed to think), ‘OK, Mississippi State.’ But they really came after us for the full 40 minutes.”
The victory helped South Carolina win its eighth-straight game against MSU and become the SEC’s eighth back-to-back tournament champion.
NOTES: Mitchell was named SEC tournament MVP. Wilson, Vivians, Kentucky’s Makayla Epps, and Tennessee’s Diamond DeShields also were named to the all-tournament team. … MSU was making its second appearance in a SEC tournament final. Tennessee defeated MSU 70-67 on March 5, 2000, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. … MSU entered the game with 53 victories in the past two seasons, which was second only to South Carolina in the SEC. … The crowd Sunday was the largest in the five-day event. The total attendance was 29,526 for the tournament’s first trip to Jacksonville.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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