Mississippi State dominated the middle-quarters to hand visiting Missouri a 70-53 decision. This win kept the Bulldogs (23-1, 9-1 SEC) even with South Carolina for first place in the league. State also beat a Tiger team which came in tied for third SEC. They left 16-8, 6-4.
They also left the Humphrey Coliseum court as a quartet of Bulldog upperclassmen were recognized as first class to reach triple-digit wins. “It’s nice to see your hard work pay off,” said guard Dominique Dillingham.
Fittingly a pair of these set the tone. Dillingham was lead-Dog all afternoon as she knocked out a career-high 24 points, almost four-times her senior season average. She scored 16 of those in the first half to essentially carry the club while establishing a double-digit lead.
For the last half and especially the third quarter it was classmate Breanna Richardson coming to the top. State’s power-forward, scoreless at intermission, put up 11 in the third period with a bonus basket in the fourth.
This production was exactly what Dillingham and Richardson should have done against Missouri, according to two-guard Dillingham. “They kind of sag off me and the four player,” she said. The Tigers paid the price for that gameplan. And, for forgetting that three years ago then-freshman Dillingham scored 21 in a similar situation for her previous career-best.
“They knew how Missouri was probably going to guard us,” Coach Vic Schaefer said.
Extra attention didn’t do a lot to slow down all-American guard Victoria Vivians, who added 15 points to the team’s total. The only thing which did keep Vivians from greater success was the officiating crew. They whistled Vivians with three first-half fouls, and the fourth at 6:55 of the third quarter. Vivians only got in 27 total minutes as a result.
What did work for Missouri was denying State’s post players many touches. Starting center Chinwe Okorie only got two shots off and finished with five points. She too ran afoul of refs and managed just 13 minutes. Alternate Teaira McCowan did not score at all with just one shot in 23 minutes.
No post production, foul problems across the frontcourt, and relying on down-the-sheet shooters to carry the load could have meant big trouble against a fast and physical Tiger team. What saved State was good enough shot selection…and outstanding defense, right from the tip.
“Defensively we came out of the locker room locked-in,” Schaefer said. “We made some crucial shots but defensively, I’m proud how they played.”
The result was 29 Tiger turnovers, and a beyond-lopsided result in points off turnovers favoring Mississippi State 35 to just two. “We just struggled to take care of the ball,” Tiger Coach Robin Pingeton said. “We have to take some ownership with the way we handled the ball.”
Of that total 15 were ruled steals. Despite coming off a frenetic evening at Auburn, the Bulldogs in general and point guard Morgan William and Dillingham in particular had the legs to play all 20 first-half minutes and keep the defense strong. As big a day as Dillingham had on offense, her work on Missouri ace Sophie Cunningham was even more impressive. While Cunningham did get a team-high 19 points none came easily as Dillingham dogged every step.
Dillingham even blocked a shot from behind, never mind she was giving up at least four inches and a lot of reach to the Tiger.
“To get 24 and guard the other team’s best player and force five turnovers, she’s going to sleep well tonight,” Schaefer said.
Dillingham also knocked down five three-point buckets, four of them in that first half when the Tigers still lurked in striking distance to keep it 36-27 at the break. Richardson took care of the third period. Missouri went to a zone and State’s forward knocked in a pair of jumpers, then attacked the rim for more scores. Richardson also ended up with Tiger turnovers and cashed those in as well.
In the process Richardson surpassed 1,000 career points. “I was in attack mode at first. But once I got the breakaway steals I was able to relax and knock down shots.”
Schaefer also went to his backcourt bench for the first time in that third quarter with Jazzmun Holmes spelling William. With Okorie and McCowan picking up fouls reserve center Zion Campbell gave some good minutes as well, while forward Ketara Chapel complemented Richardson as needed. State was playing without backup guard Roshunda Johnson, in Little Rock with her ill mother.
Missouri shot just 33% for the day and in the middle quarters was just 4-of-19. The Tigers did win the boards battle decisively, 43 to 25 which is a concern to Schaefer. Still, “You force 29 turnovers and hold them to 33% shooting, you ought to win.”
The Bulldogs did. They stay home for Thursday’s 8:00 visit by Vanderbilt, before a Sunday trip to Oxford and rematch with Ole Miss. A rival which just happens to have provided six of these senior’s 100 wins, including a 73-62 result back on January 16.