Upcoming tests, Exams may be over for Bulldogs, but challenges on court just beginning

Jazzmun Holmes

Staff Writer

It’s the end of the semester for Mississippi State and the women’s hoops team is finishing off another big stretch in the classroom.

After some record-breaking numbers a year ago with two semesters worth of scoring a cumulative grade point average over 3.0, the Bulldogs are destined to do it again this semester.
On top of that, senior point guard Jazzmun Holmes and sophomore guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter will finish with a 4.0 each.

While the pressure of classes and exams will come to an end this week, the No. 5 Bulldogs aren’t getting in relief on the court. MSU follows up back-to-back top-15 games against Texas and Marquette by starting a road trip over the next week that will test its will before conference play begins in January.

A top-10 game with Oregon is looming on Tuesday night followed by another West Coast challenge at Washington on Thursday, but MSU will start the road trip within the borders of Mississippi Friday night. That’s where the battle with instate foe Southern Miss (6-3) takes place at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg at 6 p.m. The game can only be seen on the subscription-based ESPN + online. Otherwise, fans can listen on their radio dial or, better yet, show up in Hattiesburg and have another solid road crowd on hand for the Bulldogs.

MSU head coach Vic Schaefer is meeting up with Joye Lee-McNelis, who has been the head coach of the Golden Eagles for 15 years. He always expects the best out of her teams when they get together.

“Joye-Lee is a great coach who always has those kids ready,” Schaefer said of the longtime USM leader. “We’ll have to play down there on their floor. We’ll have to play well. They’ve started off pretty well and are shooting the ball extremely well. They’re going to do some things that can potentially bother us.”

The Golden Eagles’ three losses this season came to South Alabama, Sam Houston State and Tulane and they’re off to a strong start shooting the ball as they’ve hit 46 percent of their shots this season. They’ve also gotten the job done on the defensive side of the court with 9.3 steals per game.

Leading the way for USM this season is fifth-year senior guard Megan Brown, who averages 11.6 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. They’re getting 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game from Shonte Hailes a junior guard and she is a 2.6 steal-a-game player.

One player that Schaefer has his eyes on, however, is one that he’s watched play the game of basketball for most of his time in Starkville. Schaefer’s daughter, Blair, graduated from Starkville High School and he’s frequented the gym from time to time and has a great relationship with the staff over at the hometown school.

Over the years, he watched former All-State center Kelsey Jones put up double-double after double-double and it led to an opportunity in Hattiesburg. As a redshirt freshman this season, the sister to MSU football defensive end Kobe Jones, has 8.4 points per game in her eight contests and pulls down 5.4 boards.

“I loved her," coach Schaefer said. "I think if she would have been a couple of inches taller at (center), she would have been a real viable option for us. She can really be a problem in Conference USA. I’m excited for her, but I’m not looking forward to playing against her because I think she’s going to be really good. She’s tough and really a physical player.”

This game is one that the Bulldogs can’t afford to take lightly with a big one looming next week on the West Coast swing. To this point, they’ve played well in their 9-0 start and are averaging 93 points per contest with 47 rebounds a game.

Teaira McCowan continues to pace the Bulldogs with 19.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and three blocks a game. Her 27 blocks this season are third nationally and tops in the Southeastern Conference. Right behind McCowan is the newest addition to the team in Anriel Howard. The Texas A&M transfer was a game-changer for MSU when she came in and has averaged 14.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. She’s eclipsed her career high in scoring twice since coming to Starkville, most recently when she scored 29 points last game against Marquette.

The Bulldogs also get double-digit scoring from Chloe Bibby and Jordan Danberry, who average 11 points a game each.

While the current stretch of games have already been a challenge, it’s only going to get more challenging. However, the veterans and their coach want it to be no other way as MSU is contending for another SEC Championship and, ultimately, another Final Four trip.

“The games have progressively gotten a little harder," Howard said. "It’s preparing us for SEC play. Texas helped us a little bit and this last game (vs. Marquette) was really good. It was aggressive and fast. I think that those games are helping us prepare for the SEC.”