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Morgan William leads No. 1 Mississippi State to Sweet 16

It was a hard-fought battle, but tenacious defense lifted the Bulldogs to a 71-56 victory.

Mississippi State Athletics

They call it March Madness for a reason, as fans were holding their breath all game long. The Cowgirls took it to the Bulldogs and punched them in the mouth early. Oklahoma State’s Braxtin Miller, Mandy Coleman, Kaylee Jensen, and Loryn Goodwin accounted for all of the Cowgirls’ 56 points, but it wasn’t enough to stop Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan, Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer, Victoria Vivians, and William. While Oklahoma State gave the Bulldogs all they could handle, it came down to who wanted it more, as Mississippi State took adversity by the horns and rose above it.

Vivians set the tone with the game’s first shot from three, but Goodwin’s layup ignited Oklahoma State, as the Cowgirls were quick to set a tone of their own. Suddenly one could hear a pin drop in Humphrey Coliseum with 2:15 to go in the first. Miller found Goodwin for three and Oklahoma State was up 15-12. Throughout a grueling 10 minutes, the Bulldogs were not themselves, until they got a lift from William with 0:04 left.

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Texas A&M vs Mississippi State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The second quarter was one of lead changes, and the Cowgirls would not go down. But Vivians and William had something to say, as the two seniors had enough. While the two combined for 14 points the hard way, another senior put her foot down to close things out. Three-point specialist and defensive mastermind Blair Schaefer drained a long three with 0:45 to go.

The crowd was back and Mississippi State was up 35-34 at halftime. Having said that, coach Vic Schaefer was’t pleased with the Bulldogs’ first half. This team has been about tenacious defense and toughness all season, and Mississippi State wasn’t living up to its own standard.

The lead went back and forth in quarter three, but it didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to remember Vic’s message about toughness on the defensive end. McCowan came to life and Mississippi State was in another gear. Though it was a grind, the Bulldogs were up by 10 to close out the third. With Goodwin in foul trouble, the fourth quarter was Mississippi State’s to lose.

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Kentucky vs Mississippi State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulldogs kept their foot on the gas, as they returned to form in the final 10 minutes. Their experience and fervor was too much for Oklahoma State. Though the score was much closer than indicated, a win is a win.

Defense is Mississippi State’s specialty, as Blair drew her 26th and 27th charges and McCowan and “Ro” Johnson combined for four steals. McCowan also had two blocks. She recorded a double-double with 21 points and 18 rebounds.

Vivians posted 23 points, six rebounds, all of which were defensive, and four assists. She knew when to take over and scored at will. Vivians had her way and wasn’t afraid of anybody. She knew what was at stake and nothing got her in the way.

Mississippi State Athletics

But last night was about William, plain and simple. She’s just different in March. Her 17 points, three rebounds, and two assists were monumental. William carried the team on her back and got through the lane with ease.

She made the most of her 38 minutes and shined on both ends of the floor. William and March go hand in hand, as “Itty Bitty” will be a force to be reckoned with throughout the tournament. William and Bulldogs have plenty of work to do going forward, but will be ready for the Sweet 16 in primetime.

Mississippi State heads to Kansas City to take on NC State this Friday at 7:00 PM ET.