Sweet repeat: Bulldogs get impressive win to reach NCAA round of 16
There was a spell at the end of the season where the Mississippi State Bulldogs looked one dimensional and vastly different than the team that started the season 27-1 and No. 2 in the country.
The first two NCAA Tournament games suggest the Bulldogs could be back.
Sunday was especially impressive as MSU matched up against a tough DePaul team with a history of success in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs outscored the Blue Demons 54-34 in the second half and had six players in double figures for a 92-71 win that sent them back to the Sweet 16 for the second-straight year.
In the two home tournament games against Troy and DePaul, MSU amassed 202 points and head coach Vic Schaefer was pleased with the production on that end.
“I came out of the SEC Tournament with my tail between my legs knowing we had only scored 48, 49 points,” Schaefer said. “I didn’t sit around and eat bonbons and drink coffee for a week. If you’re worth your salt, you’re going to figure that out.”
Two days in a row saw Blair Schaefer lead the team in points. The junior guard was in the starting lineup again and had 18 points in 26 minutes hitting four 3’s.
Jazzmun Holmes was the player of the game for the Bulldogs, however. The sophomore point guard had 14 points in 25 minutes of her own going 8-of-10 on the free-throw line. She had six assists and just one turnover for the day to help MSU pull away in the second half.
“Coach always talks about having poise and having a chip on your shoulder,” Holmes said. “I felt like they couldn’t guard me. I had to do what I had to do."
In addition to strong guard play by the Bulldogs, they dominated on the inside. MSU had 48 rebounds in the game with 16 offensive boards winning the battle of the boards by 22. It scored 52 points in the paint to DePaul’s 28.
The first half was played with a fury on both ends for each team and each possession was with a purpose.
Through six ties and seven lead changes, the Blue Demons and the Bulldogs went. It was tied at 17 after the first quarter but MSU claimed the slim 38-37 lead at halftime.
“I felt like we should have been up 10,” coach Schaefer said of the first half. “I thought we executed offensively, but they made shots and that’s what they do.”
The weapon of choice for the Bulldogs was their inside presence where Chinwe Okorie and Teaira McCowan feasted. The two skyscrapers had 12 points and 10 rebounds by the break and there was a sense that the inside game would take its toll. It did early in the third quarter.
MSU quickly extended the lead when Breanna Richardson scored seven points and Blair Schaefer’s 3 helped them out to a 54-43 advantage with 4:30 left in the third. That lead got all the way out to 61-43 as the Bulldogs produced an 18-2 run with dominant play on both ends.
“Coach gave us a couple of plays out of halftime and we executed them perfectly,” MSU senior guard Dominique Dillingham said. “It helps when we have Jazz out there running the team.”
With over a minute left in the quarter, DePaul fought back with a 7-0 run of its own to close the lead to 61-50 after three quarters.
Holmes and her teammates took over from there.
The Bulldogs went right back to work with an 8-0 run to start the quarter and took the lead out to 74-53 with over 5 minutes remaining as Blair Schaefer continued to knock down 3s. The lead never got under 15 from there as MSU took full control of the game in the second half.
The free-throw line was a good spot to be for the Bulldogs late in the game and they shot 26-for-30 overall.
Joining Holmes and Schaefer in double figures was Vivians, Okorie and Richardson with 12 points each. Dillingham had 10 points to go over 1,000 points in her career.
Okorie and McCowan scored a combined 20 points and had 18 rebounds to lead the way in the paint.
Oklahoma City is the next destination for MSU. The Bulldogs await the winner of Washington and Oklahoma on Monday and will meet up for the round of 16 on Friday.
“Hopefully, we’re getting hot at the right time,” coach Schaefer said. “That’s what this time of year is all about.”