Fun’s over: Mississippi St expects tough game vs. Clemson
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State’s NCAA Tournament opener was the typical No. 1 seed vs. No. 16 seed romp. The Bulldogs scored 37 points in the first quarter, 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan attempted her first career 3-pointer (she missed) and everyone more or less enjoyed the 103-46 victory over Southern.
McCowan and coach Vic Schaefer laughed about that wayward 3-pointer in the aftermath of Friday’s game. But a few minutes later, the coach’s demeanor turned more serious.
He expects Sunday’s second-round game to provide a much bigger challenge.
Mississippi State will face No. 9 seed Clemson, which beat South Dakota 79-66 in the first round on Friday. It was the latest win in a remarkable turnaround season for the Tigers, who earned their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2001.
“Clemson is going to be a monster on Sunday,” Schaefer said. “We can’t do some of things that we did tonight. We’ve got to be better.”
Clemson (20-12) is led by first-year coach Amanda Butler, who is familiar with Mississippi State. Butler coached at conference rival Florida for 10 seasons before being fired in 2017. She bounced back this year to be named the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers’ breakout season.
Butler knows her team faces an uphill battle on Sunday, especially in front of a partisan Mississippi State crowd that could top 10,000 at Humphrey Coliseum.
“The obvious challenge is Teaira,” Butler said. “She seems to have met just about every challenge that she’s faced with success. But it’s really short-sighted if you think they’re just a one-headed monster. They’ve got monsters everywhere who do their jobs really well.”
Schafer said Mississippi State will have to contain Clemson’s guards – Simone Westbrook and Danielle Edwards. Westbrook – a seventh-year senior who recently turned 25 years old – scored 27 points against South Dakota while Edwards added 25.
“That’s a good team, they’re well coached and they’ll throw a lot of different looks at us defensively,” Schaefer said.
Here’s a few more things to watch when Clemson faces Mississippi State on Sunday:
It’s obvious that Butler and Schaefer are big fans of each other’s work at their respective schools. Schaefer said he texted Butler when she won ACC Coach of the Year: “There’s a lot of good coaches in that league, by the way, and she’s the coach of the year.”
Butler’s been equally impressed by Schaefer’s ability to turn Mississippi State into an SEC powerhouse: “Vic does a great job. They’ve always had this tremendous defensive identity.”
Schaefer’s been very vocal over the past few weeks about how well senior point guard Jazzmun Holmes has been playing. Holmes was leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio going into the SEC Tournament, dishing 4.53 assists for every turnover. Against Southern, she had 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. Said Schaefer: “I just love how that kid’s playing.”
WATCH FOR COLLIER
Westbrook and Edwards had the big games for Clemson in Friday’s win over South Dakota, but Schaefer mentioned reserve guard Aliyah Collier as someone his team has to respect.
Collier came off the bench to average 22.5 points and six rebounds in the ACC Tournament, which was good for second-team All-Tournament honors. She scored 16 points against South Dakota and is one of the team’s best shooters.
Mississippi State’s Bre’Amber Scott had a big role in the opening round win over Southern, scoring 18 points.
The 5-foot-11 sophomore has played several different positions for the Bulldogs this season and became even more important after starting forward Chloe Bibby suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. She’s averaging about seven points per game and can defend multiple positions.