STARKVILLE — Mississippi State has a frontcourt depth problem.
While the Bulldogs have enjoyed wild success in recent years at the center position courtesy of No. 3 overall WNBA draft pick Teaira McCowan and former all-SEC performer Martha Alwal, the 2020 season has been a trying one underneath in Starkville.
Through 10 games, sophomore Jessika Carter has held down the starting center position with an impressive array of athleticism and defensive prowess. And while Carter has been a stalwart — she plays 29 minutes per game — it’s when she’s not on the court that the Bulldogs have struggled.
In MSU’s 71-65 loss to No. 22 West Virginia on Dec. 8, the issue was perpetuated as Carter picked up her fourth personal with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter.
Looking to save Carter for the home stretch, coach Vic Schaefer was forced to use junior college transfer Yemiyah Morris for an extended run against a physical WVU frontcourt — one in which she recorded just two points and one block in eight minutes of action.
“She has been doing better in practice and being more active,” Schaefer said postgame. “She was one for two, missed two free throws, had a block in about eight minutes. She was fine.”
While MSU’s eighth-year head coach was fine with the initial returns on Morris’ minutes, the sequence offered a glaring look at MSU’s lacking depth at center.
While Carter has produced at an elite level thus far — averaging 14.7 points and 11 rebounds per game — Morris and sophomore Promise Taylor have combined for an average of just 5.7 points and 3.5 boards in relief.
This isn’t to say Morris and Taylor are devoid of talent. A one-time Freshman All-SEC performer at Ole Miss, Taylor has continued her transition back into basketball shape after an ankle injury sidelined her from practice for the entire 2019 season.
Now healthy, she’s shown some flashes of ability in the early stages of this year. In MSU’s 124-43 dismantling of Murray State on Nov. 15, Taylor notched 10 points in 17 minutes of action, marking her first double-digit scoring output since Feb. 22, 2018, against Auburn during her freshman season at Ole Miss.
“It just feels good to get out there and compete with my teammates,” she said at the time. “I’ve been out for so long, so getting back just felt great.”
As for Morris, after a prolific junior college career at Cochise Community College in Arizona, she was a late addition to MSU’s 2019 recruiting class in hopes of adding some depth behind Carter.
That said, both Taylor and Morris have been virtual nonfactors of late. Over the past seven games, Taylor played double-digit minutes just once — in a 35-point win over San Francisco — and has appeared for just one minute in three of those contests.
Morris has been similarly dormant, having played a total of just 28 minutes over MSU’s last seven games.
Now heading into the final stretch of nonconference play starting with an afternoon affair against Louisiana today, Schaefer remains adamant he needs more from his backup centers with SEC play just 18 days away.
“Yemiyah and Promise to me are lagging behind right now, to be honest with you,” Schaefer said. “Their development has been disappointing, and I know coach (Johnnie Harris) is working with them daily.”
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.
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