MSU's season ends short of national title

MSU's Dominique Dillingham
Staff Writer

DALLAS – Coach Vic Schaefer walked off the floor in Greenville, South Carolina, after the Southeastern Conference Tournament final with confetti falling in celebration of the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Schaefer made a promise to the media and fans after that game that one day he wouldn’t be walking off the floor, but he’d be embracing that confetti. For the third-straight time with a title on the line, Schaefer walked off the floor in defeat to the Gamecocks.
Following the mountain of emotions that came from the University of Connecticut win on Friday night, the Bulldogs looked spent and the Gamecocks took advantage. South Carolina took over the game at the end of the first quarter and never looked back on its way to a 67-55 win that ended MSU’s magical run.
“We’ve had some hard times dealing with them and (Sunday) was no different,” Schaefer said. “(Sunday) doesn’t define us and it certainly doesn’t define the season. I want the seniors to know I love them and appreciate them.”
The Bulldogs finished the greatest men or women’s basketball season 34-5, but no one was a bigger nemesis than the Gamecocks at every turn. South Carolina boasted three of MSU’s five losses for the year including the SEC and national title games. Schaefer fell to 0-9 against the Gamecocks and three of those losses have come in championship games.
Senior Dominique Dillingham is a part of the winningest class in school history and she logged 33 minutes in her final game as a Bulldog. She finished with 11 points and four rebounds.
“There’s no way to put it," Dillingham said. "We just weren’t executing offensively. We weren’t putting the ball in the basket and we weren’t getting stops which doesn’t have a good recipe.”
The Bulldogs came out of the gates hot with a 7-1 start behind two baskets from Victoria Vivians, but things started going south for them.
After four-straight free throws from the Gamecocks late in the first quarter gave them an 18-14 lead after through the first 10 minutes. That lead grew to 25-16 midway through the second as South Carolina’s defense smothered MSU and expanded the lead.
The Bulldogs trailed by as much as 13 in the first half and couldn’t get it back under double digits by halftime trailing 36-26.
For most of the first half, MSU looked tired and timid offensively. South Carolina took the Bulldogs out of their game plan and they couldn’t recover.
Things started even worse for MSU in the second half as it fell behind by 14 points, but there was fight still left in the bunch. State went on a 13-3 run over a 4-minute period that cut the Gamecock’s lead down to 48-44.
South Carolina found a way to push that lead back out to eight to end the third quarter and it was 52-44 with 10 minutes of the season left to go.
MSU’s defense led to offense midway through and again had it to within four points and with a chance to continue to cut into that lead. After three different chances at the goal, South Carolina made the Bulldogs pay for not taking advantage.
Back-to-back buckets pushed the Gamecock lead right back out to eight and MSU couldn’t get back in it from there.
“Sometimes this group can get caught up in the moment,” Schaefer said. “We were right there. Maybe it took all we had to get to that point and get it back after being down so bad. We didn’t have anything left.”
The Gamecocks blew open the doors in the final minutes and ended State’s dream season as A'ja Wilson again dominated State in the paint.  
Wilson finished the game with 23 points and 10 rebounds while blocking four shots in 34 minutes. Allisha Gray added 18 points and 10 rebounds of her own as the Gamecocks dominated the paint for 42 points and 40 rebounds to MSU’s 27.
“A’Ja is a great player,” State senior Ketara Chapel said. “We’ve been dealing with her for three years. She’s tough and we had a hard time guarding her. She’s a really great player so it was hard to match her intensity.”
Teaira McCowan had a tough task against Wilson and finished with seven points and 10 rebounds. The Bulldogs were led by Vivians’ 12 points, but she shot just 4-of-16 missing 10 of her final 11 shots in the second half.
Schaefer led the Bulldogs to new heights in 2017. While he wasn’t satisfied with the outcome, he couldn’t help but be proud of the players that have helped him build his program and will continue to see it pay off in the future.
“It’s been a real honor and privilege to coach these seniors, (and) this team,” Schaefer said. “This team has certainly challenged me, but it’s been extremely rewarding. We’ll be back. It’s been a heck of a ride.”