That said, to call it a struggle early on would be putting it mildly. The Lady Mocs lead throughout the first quarter and limited the Bulldogs on the offensive end. The Bulldogs were just 3 of 17 in the first period with many of those misses coming from point blank range. The visitors were 7 of 13 in the early going and enjoyed a 16-11 advantage at the first intermission.
The Lady Bulldogs enjoyed a size advantage on the interior and were able to get the ball into the low post without much resistance. Many of those early shots from the paint simply would not fall. For the Lady Mocs, the back door cuts were wide open as Mississippi State appeared to over play the wings.
"They absolutely did that," Coach Vic Schaefer said of the Mocs' success early going to the basket. "That's what a good team will do when you have 12 days to prepare. We just talked about keeping the ball in front of us.
"I think we made that adjustment in the second quarter and then I believe they only made two baskets. Ball pressure takes away that passing vision and I didn't think our ball pressure was very good. I didn't think we were very good defensively today at all."
In the second quarter, the teams saw a reversal of fortunes. Mississippi State began making shots and got a solid boost off of the bench from LaKaris Salter, who received a tremendous ovation from the home crowd when she returned to the State bench just before the half.
Salter's energy and momentum changing three ignited both her team, but the Bulldog crowd of 5,511.
"Coming off of the bench, I knew my main thing was to defend and try to do a better job of defending and let the scoring come to me, which it did," Salter said. "We got into a better offensive flow and we did well."
It all started on the defensive end for State when they adjusted to the Lady Mocs back door cuts and forced them to shoot from the perimeter. UT-Chattanooga struggled with those opportunities and as a result scored just five points in the quarter.
On the other side of the ledger, Mississippi State scored 18 in the period and surged to a 29-21 halftime lead. During that period, Bulldog star Victoria Vivians began to take over the game.
"Once my shot goes in, I am going to try again," Vivians said. "It's like a heat check. If I make it, I am going to keep shooting."
The talented sophomore scored 19 points on the day, leading all scorers.
The third period began much as the second period ended with a pair of Bulldog baskets in the paint. With Jasmine Joyner and Alicia Payne back on the floor despite battling foul trouble, the Lady Mocs cut the Bulldog lead to six halfway through the quarter.
At the four minute mark in the half, the Bulldogs clung to a four point lead, by the time the clock hit three minutes the advantage was down to a single bucket. Victoria Vivians drove to the basket and dished up off the glass with the left hand to put the Bulldogs back up four. She followed up with a pair of three point baskets and suddenly Mississippi State had some separation again at 45-38.
As the final quarter began, the Bulldogs were up six with the ball. At 7:31 Sherise Williams made one of two free throws to bring the lead to seven.
Mississippi native, Jasmine Joyner, hit a pair of free throws for UT-Chattanooga and with just under six minutes to play it was a three point game.
From there, the Bulldogs began to pull away. Victoria Vivians led the way, but contributions by Morgan William on both ends of the floor aided as State took it back out to 10 with just under three minutes to play.
With 2:11 to go, Chattanooga leading scorer Jasmine Joyner fouled out of the game leaving the Lady Mocs with few offensive options with which to mount a comeback. After a mad sequence on the defensive end that saw the Lady Mocs get three shots from three, Vivians secured the rebound that ultimately led to State bleeding the clock dry.
"I think you saw a heck of a basketball game," Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer said in the post game press conference. "They played awfully well and had a great game plan coming in. Obviously, it's a unique match-up at the five and (Joyner) played outstanding. You have to give her a lot of credit.
"I am proud of my kids for adjusting. It was a total team effort. We played a number of kids today. I think everybody that came into the ball game impacted the game in a positive way and helped us win the ball game."
The tournament victory was the first of its' kind in Humphrey Coliseum for the Mississippi State women. The historic nature of the win was not lost on the Bulldog players.
"We're making history," Vivians said. "We prepared all week and came to practice everyday. We didn't take one day off."
Teammate Chinwe Okorie agreed with Vivians' assessment and was eager to give the Mississippi State fans credit for their part in the victory.
"It was great to be able to host at home. We had great fans," Okorie said. "It was like we were in the SEC tournament. It was great.Our fans came out at 1:30 in the afternoon to support us. It's a great feeling. It's huge! It's a great feeling when you get hugs from your fans. It's more like family."
The Bulldog family is expected to turn out in huge numbers on Sunday as Mississippi State takes on #4 seed Michigan State with a berth in the Sweet Sixteen on the line. The game time is still being determined, but Coach Schaefer is looking for a rowdy and partisan crowd in Humphrey Coliseum in round two.
"This is an unbelievable place to come and play women's college basketball," Schaefer said. "That was a tremendous experience today for both teams. That's an NCAA tournament atmosphere. It's what our game desperately needs.
"I couldn't be more proud of my fans. We appreciate them so much. The love that they have for more girls is really unique and special. We have a special thing here at Mississippi State. I am just fortunate to be a part of it."