There have been questions surrounding whether or not Mississippi State was for real, as the Bulldogs answered the door with a dominant statement this afternoon in Knoxville. In a 71-52 rout of Tennessee, head coach Vic Schaefer has panned out to be one of the game’s best, having taken a program beyond where anyone imagined it to be. Undefeated at 20-0 for a second straight year, Mississippi State has tied its best start in school history, a stat described as for real.
The tone was set early, with Victoria Vivians finding Blair Schaefer for three, one of her four on the day. Schaefer has become an assassin from beyond the arc, whose confidence has skyrocketed. When her three-point shot is falling, the Bulldogs are in another gear. A spot up shooter has become a necessity in this day and age, as Schaefer has proven to be more than reliable.
Vivians has emerged into a superstar, as she took over Thompson–Boling Arena, posting 24 points, nine rebounds, and three steals. Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick and the Lady Vols threw the kitchen sink at Vivians, but had no answer along the perimeter or in the paint. A lethal scorer able to create her own shot, she had her way anywhere on the floor, freezing defenders and breaking ankles.
Though playing with three personal fouls, Vivians was able to hold her own, leading the Bulldogs in points scored. Her range and ability to take advantage of mismatches dismantled defensive schemes all game long. Whether it be driving through the lane, a midrange game, or a deadly three-point shot, Vivians is a triple threat offensively. She has also become more of a defensive presence, as her three steals showed significant improvement.
As a mind reading savant, she will only create more headaches going forward. Her intensity while on the floor is infectious, bringing out the best in teammates. Today was the tenth time Vivians has scored 20 or more points, as it’s only a matter of time before her name is surrounded by numerous awards.
Teaira McCowan continues to be a force to be reckoned with, recording 12 points, 18 rebounds, and two blocks. With four turnovers, taking care of the ball must be a priority in the near future. A nightmare for the opposition, McCowan has been the team’s most improved player.
She was an uncontainable weapon today. Staying with the ball and fighting for each rebound, 18 could also be described as for real. Playing a major role in silencing the critics, McCowan’s work ethic should not be overlooked.
Making her presence known, Mississippi State’s unsung hero Roshunda Johnson had a game. With 16 points, three rebounds, and three steals, she was dangerous inside. Johnson is a spark plug, igniting the Bulldogs when needed on both ends of the floor. In addition to on point decision making, her tenacity and determination highlighted Mississippi State’s mentality.
Decisiveness is key with the Bulldogs, and perhaps the most outstanding factor within Johnson’s game. Without a turnover in her stat line, the Oklahoma State transfer was a handful for Tennessee. Johnson’s aggressive attitude went a long way, as she nailed a three-pointer with 39 seconds left, a “for real” statement known as the dagger.
Backup guards Jazzmun Holmes and Jordan Danberry continue to shine as a dynamic duo, earning more minutes. Showing up when called upon, they are capable of slowing down any offense. One on one mismatches are an issue, as both Holmes and Danberry are adjusting when on the floor.
Though there is one prominent caveat for Mississippi State. While nursing a lead, the Bulldogs tend to relax. Up by double digits for most of the game, there was a point where the lead was down to seven. But it only took a layup from Johnson to wake the team up, driving Mississippi State to their 71-52 victory.
Overall, the Bulldogs had a field day when facing their biggest test so far. With foul trouble and almost allowing a double-digit lead to disappear, Mississippi State found a way. The Bulldogs are in the midst of another magical season, as the dream of capturing their first ever SEC title is shining even brighter.