Mississippi State tops Chattanooga
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State’s 27th victory of the season was a lot like many of the others.
It was kind of ugly, with the Bulldogs struggling to find any continuity on offense. But then star guard Victoria Vivians got hot, hit a few 3-pointers and Mississippi State used its superior size, strength and defense to slowly wear down another opponent.
This time, it earned the fifth-seeded Bulldogs a 60-50 victory over No. 12 Chattanooga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State will play fourth-seed Michigan State in the tournament’s second round on Sunday.
“This is who we are,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “We’re not going to morph into some 80-or 90-point offensive team. It starts on the defensive end for us. We’ve got to guard.”
Vivians scored 19 points – including 13 in the second half – while Chinwe Okorie added 12 points and nine rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass.
Mississippi State (27-7) pushed ahead thanks to an 18-5 run in the second quarter and never trailed during the second half.
Chattanooga (24-8) was led by Jasmine Joyner’s 17 points. The junior topped her season average of about 13 points per game despite playing just three minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. She shot 7 of 10 from the field.
The Mocs pulled within 49-46 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs scored the next seven points to put the game out of reach.
“We just had too many opportunities where I thought we had a quality shot and we didn’t take it,” Chattanooga coach Jim Foster said. “When you’re playing teams with this kind of quickness, you can’t be hesitant.”
Chattanooga controlled the game in the first quarter, jumping out to a 16-11 lead.
But the Mocs were hurt when Joyner – who is the nation’s leading shot blocker and the team’s leading scorer – got into quick foul trouble and had to go to the bench. Without Joyner on the court, Mississippi State had much more room to operate in the paint and pulled ahead for a 29-21 halftime advantage.
The Bulldogs received an unexpected lift in the first half from little-used forward LaKaris Salter, who scored five points, grabbed two rebounds and had an assist in five productive minutes. Salter hadn’t even played in five of the previous six games.
She was one of 11 Bulldogs who played on Friday.
“I’m proud of my kids for adjusting,” Schaefer said. “It was a total team effort. We played a number of kids today and I think everybody that came into the game impacted things in a positive way and helped us win.”
Chattanooga threatened to take the lead multiple times in the second half, but could never quite push ahead. Keiana Gilbert and Aryanna Gilbert both scored 10 points to help Joyner.
Every time the Mocs would make a run, Mississippi State responded. Vivians hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third quarter that were crucial in keeping the Bulldogs ahead.
“Once my shot goes in I’m going to try again, like a heat check,” Vivians said. “If I make it, I’m going to keep shooting.”
Mississippi State’s 27 wins this season are tied for the most in program history.
Chattanooga: Joyner is a Mississippi native who played her high school basketball at Southaven, which is a suburb on the Mississippi side of Memphis, Tennessee. … Foster has 865 career wins. This was the 29th time he has led a team to the NCAA Tournament. He led Vanderbilt to the Final Four in 1993.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had a 44-29 rebounding advantage. … It was the first time Mississippi State and Chattanooga have played since 1993. The Bulldogs lead the series 4-2.
Mississippi State will play Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
Chattanooga’s season is over.
By David Brandt, AP Sports Writer