STARKVILLE — Blair Schaefer has earned the moniker “shooter.”
You’ll hear opposing coaches or players shout it out as the 5-foot-7 senior guard sprints from wing to wing, probing for an opening in a defense. For Schaefer, that “window” to get her shot off might be a little smaller, but she has spent hours perfecting a quick release that allows her to be effective against taller or quicker defenders.
Part of being a dependable shooter is having a short memory. It is kind of like being a closer in baseball. If you give up a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning Monday, you have to be mentally ready to come back Tuesday if your team needs you.
Schaefer showed Thursday her mental game will help her be an effective weapon this season for the No. 7 Mississippi State women’s basketball season.
Coming off a scoreless outing against Virginia in the season opener, Schaefer had 14 points and was one of five players in double figures in MSU’s 106-50 victory against Georgia State before a crowd of 4,584 at Humphrey Coliseum.
“I’ve got to make the next one,” Schaefer said when asked what she thought after she missed her first shot — a wide-open 3-pointer off an extra pass — against Georgia State. “My coaches are always on me saying, ‘Make the next one and you’re 50 percent,’ so I just feel I have to focus on my shot and understand I have enough time to get it off. Sometimes I rush it, but my teammates and my coaches have all the confidence in me, so shoot the next one, you’re going to make it.”
Schaefer made her second shot — a 3-pointer — off an assist from Victoria Vivians. The trey was part of a 4-for-8 showing from the field, all from beyond the arc. She also was 2-for-2 from the free-throw line and had two rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 32 minutes.
“Thank God,” Schaefer said when asked what she thought when she made her second shot. “It really helped my confidence for the next one. I felt like I focused more the second time getting my feet ready and having my form just ready to go.”
Footwork is a crucial part of Schaefer’s shooting. Without a lot of time to get her shot off, Schaefer, who was 0for-5 from the field against Virginia, catches the basketball high and is ready to fire when she comes off a screen. She typically will have a bounce in her step to help her find her rhythm. When she is on, she is like the most dominating of closers: You know it is going to be a long night if you’re a hitter.
MSU coach Vic Schaefer was pleased the Bulldogs made the “extra pass” on a night in which they had 24 assists (16 turnovers) in a program-record 65.6-percent (40-for-61) shooting effort. That mark included a 7-for-18 showing from 3-point range. MSU (2-0) had a 56-20 edge in points in the paint and a 35-4 cushion in points off turnovers. The Lady Panthers had 28 turnovers. The Bulldogs had 16.
Coach Schaefer also praised the work of assistant coaches Carly Thibault-Dudonis and Dionnah Jackson-Durrett and associate head coach Johnnie Harris for getting all of the players on the court to do extra shooting. He said the results were evident against the Lady Panthers (0-2).
“It is amazing what happens when you spend an extra 30 minutes shooting four days a week,” coach Schaefer said. “Your shot goes in, so it is going to be important we continue to do that because when we play that four-guard lineup, it better go in because the chance of T(eaira McCowan) getting a rebound against three people sometimes ain’t going to be real good.”
Vivians and McCowan led the way with 19 points. McCowan, a 6-foot-7 junior center, who had seven points and 10 rebounds Friday in a 68-53 victory against Virginia in the season opener, was 9-for-10 from the field against an opponent with only two players on its roster 6-2 or taller. Vivians was 7-for-10 from the field, including 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. She added three steals.
Redshirt sophomore center Zion Campbell had career-highs of 13 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. The 6-3 redshirt sophomore was 6-for-6 from the field. Morgan William added 12 points and seven assists (zero turnovers). She had eight assists and zero turnovers against Virginia.
“I was really proud of the way we came out in the first half,” coach Schaefer said. “We shared the ball. I thought our execution was really good. I thought our transition was really good.
“I thought Mo and Jazz set the tempo pushing the ball. I thought Torri (Vivians) was good out in the open floor. She is a different matchup when she is at the four for a lot of people. I thought Blair and Ro made shots early.”
Blair Schaefer figures to get plenty of chances to make shots. She and redshirt senior guard Roshunda Johnson (nine points, 3-for-3 from 3-point range) have shown great chemistry when they are on the floor together. With opponents likely to focus on Vivians regardless of whether she plays guard, small forward, or power forward as well as McCowan, MSU’s “shooters” figure to play a key role.
Ideally, coach Schaefer said he would like the Bulldogs to work the ball inside-out to get good looks. This season, Blair Schaefer hopes to be in the right position and to have her footwork don so she can be ready when needed.
“I feel like last year when I was in certain ballgames I was in to hit shots, so I had this role that I was trying to fill for our team,” Schaefer said. “Sometimes when you come in for that role and you don’t fill it, it is kind of disappointing, especially when you put work in in the gym to shoot and shoot and shoot.
“I feel like sometimes that would get in my head and I would feel disappointed in myself, but I feel like this year it matters when I miss, but my mind-set is not so much on the miss. The next one is on my mind because if I don’t, it is going to drag on me throughout he game and it is going to affect the next play and the next one.”
Schaefer talked about that same issue last season when she averaged 4.9 points and shot 35.6 percent from the field in 14.1 minutes per game. She was second on the team in 3-pointers (43-for-111, 38.7 percent) and played an integral role in helping the Bulldogs win a program-record 34 games and advance to the national title game in their first appearance in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.
Schaefer said she experiences similar dilemmas in practice when she misses shots. She said her teammates and coaches stay on her to keep shooting because, after all, she is a shooter and that’s what shooters do.
In fact, coach Schaefer got mad at Blair, his daughter, for not taking a shot from the corner when she had an opening against Virginia. She said she has to maintain an attitude that is like the one a closer has in baseball that she is going to stay aggressive no matter what happens.
“Last game I was like, ‘All right, the next one I am going to make sure I am going to shoot it if I have that much time,’ ” Blair Schaefer said. “I was not feeling as comfortable as I would if I had just made four, so I think I was waiting for an opportunity that wasn’t realistic. I have that window (to get a shot off). That window is not going to change if I make shots or miss shots. I don’t need to focus on the misses or getting in trouble I just need to focus on how I can help the team. If my shot is not going in, I need to find something else.”
Shay Fluker led Georgia State (0-2) with 12 points.
MSU will play host to Southern Mississippi at 2 p.m. Sunday. Southern Miss (2-0) beat Mississippi Valley State 84-69 on Thursday night in Hattiesburg.
NOTES: MSU was without 6-2 sophomore forward/center Ameshya Williams, who wasn’t on the bench. Coach Schaefer said Williams wasn’t with the team. He said Williams is dealing with “some real personal issues,” so he isn’t sure when she will be back. … Schaefer said the Bulldogs are “contemplating” what they are going to do with freshman guard Myah Taylor. He said the topic of redshirting has been discussed and that he expects to have a final decision about her status soon. Taylor was the only player who was with the team Thursday who didn’t play. She hasn’t seen any playing time this season, which would allow her to redshirt. If Taylor redshirts, she would have four years of eligibility remaining. “She is such a competitor,” Schaefer said. “She is just in a great situation in that we have got Mo and Jazz. It is really a unique and special situation. I think that is why we’re in a position we’re in where we can even think about it. We will continue to have discussions about that.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.