STARKVILLE — Dionnah Jackson-Durrett could tell the difference in Morgan William on Monday night.
Maybe it’s a point-guard thing that allowed the Mississippi State assistant women’s basketball coach to recognize the senior leader had a different air about her for the team’s second-round NCAA tournament matchup against No. 9 seed Oklahoma State.
Whatever it was, Jackson-Durrett could tell from the opening tip William was motivated on defense and offense and was going to play a key role in the attack.
“I saw it in her,” Jackson-Durrett said. “I had told Morgan let your defense create some offense for you. She was so much better defensively tonight. It gives her energy, and I thought she was a big key for us tonight.”
William scored 17 points for her second-biggest scoring effort of the season to lead No. 1 seed MSU to a 71-56 victory before a crowd of 9,881 at Humphrey Coliseum.
William’s performance was part of a balanced, attacking effort by the Bulldogs, who secured their third-straight trip to the Sweet 16 by closing out a 18-0 ledger at home. The victory also marked the last game for classmates William, Victoria Vivians (team-high 23 points), Roshunda Johnson, and Blair Schaefer in the Hump.
“I thought Morgan dictated the whole game,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. “She controlled the pace. She ran when we wanted to run. She kept them from running. She locked down and had a much better defensive game than she has had in a long time. She’ll tell you that. She already has told me that. I told her going into the game she would be a big, her and Jazz(mun Homes) would be a big key. I wanted to run. I didn’t want them to run. They had two fast-break points. We had 12-0 second-chance points.”
William made it clear she was going to impact the game in the first quarter by attempting seven shots. She played 23 games this season with fewer shots than she attempted in her eight first-quarter minutes. She finished 7-for-17 from the field, which was a season-high for attempts. She also had three rebounds, two assists, and zero turnovers in a season-high 38 minutes. It was her sixth game this season playing 30 or more minutes.
William played only 15 minutes Saturday in a 95-50 victory against Nicholls. She had nine points, two assists (one turnover), and two blocked shots in MSU’s largest margin of victory in a NCAA tournament game.
But William was much more aggressive on offense against OSU (22-11). Jackson-Durrett said William’s ability to help contain graduate student point guard Loryn Goodwin (4-for-14 from the field, 14 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) played a key role. Goodwin had a season-high 35 points in MSU’s 79-76 victory in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Dec. 3 in Starkville.
“I thought Morgan did a good job of that, and I think it gives you confidence on the other end of the floor,” Jackson-Durrett said.
William’s defense fueled an offensive showing that nearly eclipsed her 18-point effort in a 111-69 victory against Arkansas on Jan. 4. In that game, Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said he was going to leave William open until she hit eight shots. He quickly realized he had to change that strategy.
In games like that one and against OSU, William said she becomes more aggressive when she feels she can get to the rim. She felt that way all night Monday.
“I have to play hard on the defensive end,” William said. “I feel defense really helped me on the offensive end. I feel like they couldn’t stop me getting to the basket and I just had to make a layup or not get the shot blocked.
“I just had an offensive mind tonight. I went into attack and they couldn’t stop me, so why stop?”
William said she has been watching film of games from this season and talking to members of the coaching staff. She said the coaches have encouraged her to be more aggressive and that she has been shooting a lot in practice, so she thinks all of that talk and work paid off against OSU.
Jackson-Durrett said the coaches have watched video with William and used highlight clips to show her where she was getting her shots last year and earlier this season. She feels seeing those highlights helped William and praised her for realizing the Bulldogs needed her to take a bigger scoring load to keep their season alive.
“I think Morgan found a different role this year,” Jackson-Durrett said, “but some games we do need Morgan to score the ball. Sometimes she doesn’t always look for her shot. Sometimes she is at the cup and she passes it. I think she was a little more offensive minded tonight.
“She went 7-for-17 tonight, but I am just glad she took those shots. I think that is the most important thing going into the next game for her.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.