OKLAHOMA CITY — Vic Schaefer better watch out or he is going to earn a new nickname.
Long known as the “Secretary of Defense” for his love for shutting down opponents, Schaefer has blossomed into a coach who has surprised some of his peers in running so many sets on offense.
While Schaefer has said it helps to have talented players, his scheme on offense is working pretty well.
Buoyed by a game- and career-high 41 points from junior point guard Morgan William, the second-seeded Mississippi State women’s basketball team beat top-seeded Baylor 94-85 in overtime Sunday night in the championship game of the NCAA tournament’s Oklahoma City Regional at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Fresh off scoring 110 and 92 points in victories against Troy and DePaul in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, MSU (33-4) used a 10-for-20 effort from 3-point range, a career-high six assists from Victoria Vivians, and a 45-minute effort that featured 14 assists and only four turnovers.
“I thought or kids were unflappable,” Schaefer said. “I thought they were resilient. They showed tremendous toughness, a lot of character, and their heart. You have no idea what’s inside their breastplate, but you saw it today displayed firsthand. They played with a tremendous amount of poise.”
Vivians was part of the high-scoring exploits with 24 points. The junior guard, who was 9-for-23 from the field, was a decoy more often than not as William had a career evening going 13-for-22 from the field, including 6-for-8 from 3-point range.
“I thought Torri was back to herself today,” I welcomed her to the party about midway through the third quarter.”
Vivians, who moved back into the starting lineup with Breanna Richardson and Dominique Dillingham, had her biggest scoring game since she had 27 points in a loss to Kentucky in the next-to-last regular-season game of the season. Since then, Vivians has scored 10 or fewer points three times.
Against Baylor, Vivians was engaged and aggressive on both ends of the court. She said she was most pleased with her effort on defense, which included two steals.
“It felt good,” Vivians said. “But mainly today I was really focused on my defense because I knew out defense was going to win the game. Like coach said, keep shooting, the shots will eventually fall.”
The high-scoring ways should be surprising for MSU. The Bulldogs have set a program record for points (2,840). This year’s team also is the first in program history to make more than 1,000 field goals (1,035).
Four of the top five scoring marks in program history have come in Schaefer’s five seasons in Starkville.
Senior add another win to their ledger
Seniors Ketara Chapel, Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Richardson entered the game as the winningest class in program history. The victory against Baylor pushed their career record of 110-33.
“We had a great game plan,” Okorie said. “They have a lot of bigs in the game and we were like once we take away the height, we can go low, and that is what we did. We had to hedge ball screens. Our guards had to be comfortable coming off ball screens, and they did a great job with that. It just kept going well for us.”
MSU has won more games (22, 27, 28, and 33) each of the last four seasons. It is second-most wins in the Southeastern Conference in that span. The seniors finished 40-24 in SEC games.
William takes top spot
It was fitting William made a little history on a night when she recorded a new career high for points.
With seven assists (zero turnovers), William passed Angela Harris (463, 1997-2000) for the most assists in program history. She entered the game tied with Harris.
William said after the game she was more proud of the fact that she didn’t commit a turnover than she was of her 41 points.
“I know I can score any time I want to, but I am a point guard first, so pretty much most games I am looking to pass,” William said. “The coaches are telling me, ‘Mo, look for your shot.’ I said, ‘OK,’ and I am just going to start shooting, and that is what I did.
“I can do it on any given night like my teammates say, but I guess I only do it when they need me.”
Season ends at familiar place
Baylor set a NCAA tournament record for margin of victory through three games, outscoring its opponents by 163 points. Against Louisville, Baylor had a 46-16 edge in points in the paint and a 52-36 rebounding edge.
But the Bears couldn’t turn a 53.3-percent shooting effort (32-for-60) into another trip to the Final Four.
“At Baylor, we have expectations that are higher than an Elite Eight,” Mulkey said. “Whether that’s egotistical, fair, it is what it is. We have to keep feeding that monster we started 17 years ago.”
Baylor was in its fourth-straight Elite Eight, and eighth overall. MSU was appearing in its first Elite Eight.
Prior to Sunday’s game, Baylor had lost to Notre Dame (twice) and Oregon State in the Elite Eight the last three seasons.
Baylor was trying to reach its fourth Final Four, and first since 2012. The Bears won the national title in 2005 and 2012.
This and that
Schaefer went with another lineup change, opting to start Teaira McCowan, Richardson, Vivians, Dillingham, and William. It was the first start in three games for Richardson, Dillingham, and Vivians. Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer, and Chapel started the previous three games. William said she found out about the lineup change right before the game. … Dillingham played only 13 minutes, her second-fewest this season. Earlier this season, she missed six games with an injury, but against Baylor she played 10 of her minutes in the first half. She played the final 1 minute, 4 seconds of regulation and helped preserve a 75-all tie. She played the final 1:36 of overtime. “I just knew I had to stay ready,” said Dillingham, who didn’t score and had two rebounds. “I knew my time was going to come to play defense, so I just had to keep myself ready. I was just happy for my teammates. They played really well tonight. Coach needed a little more offense tonight. I’m complete fine with that. I was ready when my time was called. I was ready to play defense.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.