Mississippi State hosted Michigan State in a match up between 5 and 4 seeds in the second round of the NCAA Women's basketball tournament.
While it turned into an amazing offensive game, the deciding play came on the defensive end for Mississippi State who forced a lay up on the run and then secured the rebound during a scrum as the final seconds ticked off of the Humphrey Coliseum game clock.
"I couldn't be prouder today," Mississippi State women's head basketball coach Vic Schaefer. "We played a heck of a basketball game against an unbelievable opponent, Michigan State. They are a tremendous basketball team, well coached. They are resilient and tough. "I say all of that and our kids were a little bit more. I couldn't be prouder of the toughness our kids showed today."
With the home crowd clearly behind the Bulldogs, Mississippi State got off to a strong start and raced to a 19-17 lead after one.
"The crowd was crazy good," Breanna Richardson said. "I appreciate all of them."
The torrid pace continued into the second period as State found the locker room at the half up 40-34. Many felt that a high scoring game would favor the Spartans, but the Bulldogs mustered more than enough offense to outlast Michigan State in what proved to be a tremendously entertaining basketball game.
During the first half, Coach Vic Schaefer ran some half court pressure, which forced Michigan State into 13 first half miscues. Once the ball was safely in bounded, Mississippi State got back on defense and played mostly man-to-man.
While the Spartans found some success in transition, several Bulldog baskets in the first half came after strong defensive plays on the other end.
"Our defense effects our offense and our offense effects our defense," Victoria Vivians shared. "If one is going good, they are both going good. It depends on how we play on one end that determines how it's going to go on the other end."
On Mississippi State's first offensive possession of the second half Victoria Vivians knocked down a three to extend the State lead to 9 at 43-34. Before the quarter was even broken in good, the Bulldogs were up thirteen points at 51-38.
"I feel like when I have enough space, I should make those shots," Vivians said. "I was right there at the three point line, so why not try it?"
The Bulldog lead swelled to thirteen, but it would be short lived. A 14-0 Spartan run closed the third period and Michigan State took a 52-51 lead into the final intermission.
The Michigan State momentum continued into the final period as the Spartans lead by as many as seven.
"I am pretty sure everybody thought we were dead and buried," Schaefer said. "I am sure there were some people who wondered why I didn't call a timeout during the 20-0 run."
A pair of Victoria Vivians' free throws ended the 20-0 Spartan run and the Bulldogs were back to within five. State would not go away and fought back to take the lead on the strength of some solid shooting from Victoria Vivians and the jitterbug action of Morgan William who penetrated and dealt to open shooters.
The play of the game came when Breanna Richardson nailed an open three from the right wing, which sent the home crowd into hysterics. The triple was just the third made shot from behind the arc on the season for Richardson who played 20 minutes off of the Bulldog bench.
"Coach always says you have to be ready when your name is called," Richardson said. "(On the shot) I was just waiting for Morgan to throw it back. I shoot threes all of the time in practice, but I never shoot them in the game. It was an open opportunity, so I decided to shoot it and I made the shot."
With 22 seconds to go William stepped to the line needing two to extend the state lead to four points and two possessions. Those final points proved to be the margin of victory for State who survived a final possession from the Spartans that ended with the ball safely in the hands of the Morgan William who was fouled at the buzzer. A review of that play proved to be academic.
"It was a matter of getting the ball," William said. "I remember last year we didn't get a rebound and they scored and we lost. I knew had to get the rebound. It was just hot potato and somebody got it. We worked so hard for this moment. We prepared and we worked so hard. Now it's happening."
It is happening for the Morgan and the rest of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Coach Schaefer called today a day that coaches, players and fans will never forget.
"It's really special! You can do this your whole life and never reach this point and be really good," Schaefer said. "It's really rewarding. I feel like we are doing what are supposed to do and we're doing what we said we would do when we came here. "These experiences these kids are having are lifelong experiences. You won't ever forget today as a student-athlete, as a coach and maybe not even as a fan. You'll never forget today."