LAS VEGAS (AP) In a battle of the last two national runners-up, Mississippi State’s pressure defense was too much for Syracuse to handle.
Victoria Vivians had 26 points to reach a milestone and added nine rebounds in No. 5 Mississippi State’s 76-65 victory over Syracuse on Thursday in the Duel in the Desert.
The 6-foot-1 senior guard became the third player in school history to reach 2,000 career points.
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Teaira McCowan added 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs (13-0) before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-7 junior is averaging 24.5 points and 14.5 rebounds in her last four games.
”With Teaira in foul trouble, I thought Victoria really put us on her back and willed us to victory, rebounding the ball on the defensive end and offensively she was really special,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. ”We put in her some spots where she could go create and I thought she really responded.”
But Vivians downplayed her milestone, and credited her teammates for stepping up.
”Once we settle down and get in the rhythm of the game, it helps us get stops and get those scores,” Vivians said. ”(The milestone) really doesn’t matter to me, because I know I have to take one game at a time. I know I can score. We got the wings and the point guards – they make shots. Our team overall, they’re ready to knock down some big shots.”
Gabrielle Cooper led Syracuse (11-1) with 22 points and nine rebounds. Tiana Mangakahia added 20 points, and Miranda Drummond had 14.
”We didn’t play our game, we got into some foul trouble with both our bigs and that left us to play small,” Cooper said. ”And to play small against that team, you’re not going to win like that.”
The Orange finished with three starters in foul trouble, each with four.
Schaefer credited Vivians and McCowan’s supporting cast with timely defensive stops and field goals to keep Syracuse from stealing momentum.
Schaefer’s daughter, Blair, scored 12 of her 15 points in the first half, Jassmun Holmes came off the bench to score nine points while Roshunda Johnson knocked down timely buckets to keep the Bulldogs in control.
”We’ve got a little bit of added depth now,” Vic Schaefer said. ”Not our best day inside with Teaira getting in foul trouble. Blair (Schaefer) carried us in the first half … and Roshunda Johnson made two really big shots for us in the second half when we were getting cold.”
The Bulldogs shook off a sluggish start in the first quarter and used a tenacious defense to frustrate Syracuse while methodically wearing down the Orange over the final three quarters.
”They’re a really good basketball team, they play really hard and they pressure you and their pressure is relentless,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. ”We did a decent job handling the pressure, but what hurt us is we had live-ball turnovers. Our turnovers led to buckets.”
The Orange committed 15 turnovers – 10 in the first half. Mississippi State took advantage in the first half, outscoring Syracuse 15-1 on points off turnovers.
Syracuse: The roster is filled with nine newcomers who’ve seen significant playing time and have proven to be an impact on the stat sheet. The new players have accounted for more than 85 percent of Syracuse’s scoring, led by Binghamton-native Miranda Drummond.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have won 35 consecutive regular-season nonconference games.
Syracuse: At UNLV on Friday.
Mississippi State: Hosts Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 28.