Jessica January scored a team-high 18 points and Brooke Schulte added 16 points, but No. 10 seed DePaul could not overcome No. 2 seed’s MSU’s height, losing 92-71 at Humphrey Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.
“Our team scrapped and clawed, but [MSU] was too big for us and they have great size,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said.
MSU had been 26-2 before today’s game when leading at the half, but DePaul opening the game with a 5-0 run kept a partisan MSU crowd wondering if that latter number might turn over to three by day’s end. But DePaul’s Jacqui Grant picking up two quick fouls hindered the Blue Demons’ attempts to deal with 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan and 6-foot-5 Chinwe Okorie in the paint, and MSU ended up scoring 52 points in the paint, including 26 in the first half.
Chante Stonewall’s three-pointer gave DePaul a 15-13 lead and Schulte’s half court steal and lay up put DePaul ahead 17-13 with 1:09 to play in the first quarter. The teams shot a combined 6-6 from the field to end the quarter.
DePaul’s 71 points is the fourth highest given up by MSU this season. The Lady Bulldogs are No. 19 in the country in scoring defense, giving up an average of 55.8 ppg. MSU is No. 7 in the country in three-point field goal percentage defense at 26.6, but DePaul shot 34.5 percent (10-29) today. January led all players in three-point field goal percentage, shooting 4-8.
But the play that would show what was to come in the paint for DePaul was at 9:35 of the second quarter, when MSU secured four offensive boards on one possession, eventually resulting in two free throws by Victoria Vivians and a 19-17 MSU lead. Two Amarah Coleman free throws and a Stonewall three-pointer from the left corner knotted the game at 26.
Tanita Allen’s three-pointer cut MSU’s lead to 38-37 with 48 seconds to play in the second quarter and she then took a charge on McCowan. And while DePaul could not get a shot off on the half’s final possession, DePaul’s upset of No. 2 seed Duke in 2013 and of No. 3 Louisville last season were coming into focus.
“Brooke Schulte and Jessica January did a great job of fighting, clawing, and scratching to help us keep it close at half time,” Bruno said.
Schulte had eight points and January five points at the half.
But MSU’s height advantage kept growing in the third quarter, with 6-foot-1 Breanna Richardson’s lay up giving MSU its largest lead of the game up to that point at 52-43. Kelly Campbell’s three-point play at 1:10 of the quarter broke a 5:01 DePaul scoring drought. A lay up from Allen and a drive by January to end the quarter closed the gap to 61-50.
“One of the consequences of being a quick-shooting team is- and my players know this- if you quick-shoot and make it, you are going to be in the ball game,” Bruno said. “If you quick-shoot and miss, you must defend and rebound. If you quick-shoot and don’t defend and rebound, you are putting together a recipe for disaster. We had some good shots that we take and make, and we missed them. We also were not simultaneously able to stop Mississippi State, and that is where [the game] got away from us. Mississippi State took us out of a consistent offensive rhythm.”
Grant fouled out with 1:44 left to play in the game and MSU leading 85-64.
The season-long absence of Mart’e Grays to an Achilles tendon rupture, January missing 15 games due to a fractured right index finger, and Ashton Millender done for the season with a foot injury after playing nine games might well be an excuse for a season that “could have been.” But neither Bruno or his players would ever accept that situation as an excuse. This, instead, was a season of “what was.”
And the season was led by the three seniors: January, Schulte, and Grant.
January finished her career at DePaul with 1,530 points and No. 7 all-time in steals.
“This is a tough situation with the loss, but I think in time I will be able to reflect back on everything,” January said after the game. “I am so, so happy with my decision to come here. I could not have even imagined the player that I would have developed into today. Looking back on my freshman year, I never thought I would have been a part of so many special things and meet such great people.“
Schulte finished her time at DePaul with 1,192 points, 28th all-time in scoring at the school. She played today in her 137th game, tying for third all-time at DePaul.
The amazing teammates that we have and the coaching staff, not just on the court, but off the court too, it’s about the camaraderie and the family-type feeling that we have together and how coach Bruno has molded us, not just on the basketball court, but outside of the court and what he has shown us and had developed us into so much,” Schulte said.
Grant, turning down DePaul during the recruiting process and then returning to the school after transferring there, leaves her two-year career at DePaul No. 11 in school history with 76 blocks and No. 7 in a single season with 57 this season.
“When I came off the floor, coach Bruno told me ‘we did not get it right the first time; I am glad you finally came around‘ “ Grant said. “That just shows the people that are here at DePaul, and I guess I finally found my way back home.”
But the last word for this season, and for this NCAA Tournament, came from Bruno before the round one game against Northern Iowa.
“I am really proud of this team because they have basically competed all season missing three key starters. For the seniors to put together the season that they put together, given the adversity of missing those starters, it just makes it more difficult to be here. I am proud of them for sticking with it and making it to the NCAA Tournament again.”
January, Schulte, and Grant were all tearful after today’s game. But one could not help in seeing these players to think that somewhere deep down, part of the tears they had shed after today’s loss were also due to the great memories they provided everyone who watched them, and DePaul, play this season.
DEPAUL 17 20 13 21
MSU 17 21 23 31