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MSU women win despite season-high 24 turnovers


Mississippi State associate head coach Johnnie  Harris, middle, and director of basketball operations Maryann Baker, left, try to get in front of coach Vic Schaefer as he argues with an official in Sunday's game against Kentucky. Schaefer was whistled for a technical foul.

Mississippi State associate head coach Johnnie Harris, middle, and director of basketball operations Maryann Baker, left, try to get in front of coach Vic Schaefer as he argues with an official in Sunday's game against Kentucky. Schaefer was whistled for a technical foul. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch


Adam Minichino



STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer has attacked turnovers like an exterminator. 


Schaefer's nickname "Secretary of Defense" was built partly on his teams' ability to force mistakes with harassing defense that didn't give opponents room to move. 


When Schaefer arrived at Mississippi State prior to the 2012-13 season, one of his goals was to stress the importance of taking care of the basketball to maximize the scoring potential on each possession. The ability of Schaefer and his coaching staff to affect a change in that area is one of the main reasons the MSU women's basketball team has become one of the nation's top programs. 


On Sunday, No. 7 MSU had a rare return to one of those high-turnover days, as it committed a season-high 24, but it did enough in other areas to beat No. 16 Kentucky 86-71 in a Southeastern Conference game before a crowd of 8,830 at Humphrey Coliseum. 


"Disappointed in our turnovers," Schaefer said. "We forced 22, but that's what they're doing. Kentucky is turning people over (at a clip of 24 per game), and we didn't take such good care of the ball, our starting five, but we made big plays when we had to." 


MSU's 24 turnovers led to 28 points for Kentucky (14-2, 1-1 SEC), but the Bulldogs (14-1, 2-0) turned the 22 they forced against the Wildcats into 31 points. 


Twenty-four turnovers is the most MSU has committed since it had 25 in a 76-70 victory against Florida on Jan. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Florida. In its last 129 games, MSU has committed 20 or more turnovers 10 times, including twice this season (20 vs. Lamar). 


MSU's ability to take better care of the basketball might be the best indicator of its development from a 13-17 team in Schaefer's first season. That squad committed 603 turnovers and had 334 assists. The Bulldogs had more turnovers than assists in each of the next three seasons as their win total increased from 22 to 27 to 28. In 2016-17, MSU turned the table with 574 assists and 499 turnovers. It continued that trend last season with 602 assists and 421 turnovers. The success in that area paved the way for MSU to reach the national title game in back-to-back seasons.  


This season, MSU has 283 assists and 202 turnovers. 


Senior guard Jazzmun Holmes had a season-high four turnovers against Kentucky, but she countered that with eight points, six rebounds, five assists, and a career-high six steals in 38 minutes. 


"Turnover wise, I know we can be better," Holmes said. "It all starts with me because I have the ball in my hands most off the time." 




Limited minutes for McCowan 


Schaefer would prefer to have senior Teaira McCowan on the court as opposed to sitting next to him on the bench. 


Unfortunately, the 6-foot-7 center logged only 22 minutes on the court due to foul trouble. She still had enough time to score 13 points and grab 10 rebounds for her 13th double-digit scoring game this season and the 51st double-double of her career. 


Schaefer praised the play of freshman center Jessika Carter in McCowan's absence. Carter had four points and four rebounds in 15 minutes. Zion Campbell had one rebound in three minutes. 


"I am proud of Jessika," Schaefer said. "She gave us some big minutes and played well. ... That will only help her calm her nerves a little bit and let her get used to playing when the lights are on." 




Offense continues to click 


Sophomore Chloe Bibby has played a key role in MSU's high-scoring ways. 


Bibby entered the game fourth on the team in scoring at 11.6 points per game. Her total is part of the Bulldogs' 92.6 ppg. that leads the nation. 


MSU's versatility came though on a day McCowan played a little more than half of the game, the team committed a season-high 24 turnovers, and Bibby went 1-for-7 from 3-point range. Still, Bibby found a way to score 18 points, which was second on the team, on 5-for-14 shooting. She did so by going 7-for-8 from the free-throw line and grabbing seven rebounds in 37 minutes. 


"I was so impressed with Bibby today and her effort and her savvy and her tenacity just hurt us on the boards," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I thought we did a good job on her from the 3-point line -- (where she was) 1-for-7 -- but boy, we couldn't keep her off the boards." 




Building depth 


Carter and Bre'Amber Scott (10 minutes) were the only bench players to log 10 or more minutes. Campbell and Myah Taylor (two minutes) also saw action, but Schaefer said it is a goal to get more players into the rotation, especially with 14 more SEC regular-season games to play. 


"Andi (Espinoza-Hunter) should have played tonight," Schaefer said. "I was careful with the pressure. I just want to be real careful with all of our players. I just felt having two point guards on the floor with Jordan (Danberry) and Jazz was important with all of that pressure. I just didn't want to take one off the floor." 






Schaefer apologized for getting called for a technical foul at the 3-minute, 13-second mark of the second quarter. He received the technical foul from Scott Yarbrough after he disagreed with a held ball call on a tie-up with McCowan. Schaefer motioned to the officials that he thought a foul should have been called on a Kentucky player reaching in on McCowan. "I am beside myself and mad at myself for doing that," Schaefer said. "I ask my kids to play with poise and handle themselves and I get caught up in things. There is no excuse for that. That shouldn't have happened." ... MSU won its 28th-straight home game, 18th-straight SEC game, and fifth-straight conference home opener. ... McCowan and Holmes recorded their 113th win to move their record to 113-16. They need 13 wins to match last year's senior class for the program wins record (126). ... MSU will play host to Georgia at 8 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network). The first 1,000 fans will get a free Vic Schaefer bobblehead. 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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