McCowan leads No. 6 Mississippi St. over Vanderbilt, 86-70

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State endured another Southeastern Conference test on Sunday, this time against one of the teams at the bottom of the league standings.

The sixth-ranked Bulldogs pulled away in the second half to beat Vanderbilt 86-70, but not before the Commodores put plenty of pressure on them.

Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer is just hoping to survive the grind of the SEC schedule and learn from mistakes as the postseason approaches.

“These games aren’t getting any easier,” Schaefer said. “I really want to commend (Vanderbilt coach) Stephanie White and those kids. They really competed. I’m really impressed with their approach and how hard they played. I’m proud of our kids for getting through a challenging day.”

Mississippi State wasn’t at its best but did have three players score 20 points or more for the first time since 1999. Teaira McCowan scored 23, Anriel Howard had 20 points and 10 rebounds and Andra Espinoza-Hunter added 20 points.

Espinoza-Hunter has scored at least 20 in two of the past three games. The sophomore transfer from UConn jumped into the starting lineup after Chloe Bibby tore an ACL against South Carolina.

“I’m starting to get more comfortable,” Espinoza-Hunter said. “I’m talking to Chloe a little bit when we’re at home and she’s telling me what I need to hear. It goes back to my teammates and my coaches. Their confidence in me helps my own confidence. I give all credit to them.”

The Bulldogs (25-2, 13-1 SEC) got off to a sluggish start, shooting just 39 percent (13 of 33) in the first half. Vanderbilt kept the game close until the second half, trailing 19-17 after one quarter and 38-31 at halftime.

The Commodores (6-20, 1-13 SEC) cut Mississippi State’s lead to 38-36 within the first minute of the second half before Mississippi State scored the next six points and slowly took control.

Vanderbilt shot 29 of 51 (57 percent) and hit 5 of 10 3-pointers, but the Commodores were hurt by 23 turnovers.

Mariella Fasoula led the Commodores with 29 points on 13-of-16 shooting, an impressive performance considering the 6-foot-7 McCowan was roaming the paint for Mississippi State.

“It was going to be very difficult for her to go 1-on-1 with McCowan, so we wanted to find her on the move,” White said of Fasoula. “I thought we did a good job of hitting (Fasoula) on time and on target.”

Cierra Walker added 17 points and made five 3-pointers. Chelsie Hall had 12 points.

BIG PICTURE

Vanderbilt: The Commodores can take solace in the fact that they pushed the Bulldogs for much of the afternoon. It was the fifth time in conference play that Mississippi State has given up at least 70 points.

Mississippi State: It was another up-and-down game for the Bulldogs against lesser competition, which is something Schaefer has been concerned about this season. The Bulldogs close the regular season with games against LSU and South Carolina next week.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt: Travels to Tennessee on Thursday.

Mississippi State: Hosts LSU on Thursday.