#4-ranked Mississippi State hit the first five field goal attempts, as well as a couple of free throws on the foul-negated sixth try, en route to an 86-41 blowout of visiting Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs improved to 24-1 and 10-1 SEC, keeping on pace with conference co-leader South Carolina.
The Commodores slid farther into the SEC cellar at 11-13, 1-10.
“This team continues to surprise me,” Schaefer said. “I didn’t see that coming.”
A dozen Dogs made at least one basket, with only #3 center Zion Campbell failing to find points. All-America guard Victoria Vivians out-scored the Commodores alone in the first half with 21 points, hitting eight of twelve shots. Only a pair of those were three-pointers as Vivians was able to dash and slash at will for short-range jumpers and layups.
“I felt great,” Vivians said. “I came out and played hard and did good.”
Better than good. Vivians had eight points in the first quarter, while the whole Commodore club had just six. In the second the junior went really wild, hitting five fast shots from all over the floor.
“Tori was really electric early, she was locked-in and hard to deal with,” Schaefer said. The surprise? She and squad alike had been lackluster in Thursday’s shootaround session, looking far from locked-in.
“I didn’t know what to expect come gametime,” admitted Vivians. “It surprised me as well.”
State’s fast efficiency on offense came from attacking inside the arc. The Bulldogs came in averaging 16 trey-tries per SEC game, yet did not throw a single long shot up until inside three minutes of the half. Blair Schaefer swished it of course.
“I thought everybody was at a nice level intensity wise,” said Schaefer.
By contrast Vanderbilt opened ice-cold. Between aggressive Dog defense and their own issues. The Commodores missed nine of their first ten attempts and were only 5-of-26 at halftime. They did not reach double-digit points until 4:56 of the second quarter, by which time Mississippi State had 40 and Vivians her total 21. She accounted for half her team’s offense at intermission with a 42-15 margin.
First-year Commodore coach Stephanie White said her team came out “wide eyed” for the matchup and it showed in their play. While, “Mississippi State did exactly what a top team in the country should do. They came out punching. They showed why they’re a team fighting for a Final Four.”
Inevitably the Bulldogs cooled down, a combination of not being able to keep up such intensity as well as getting a lot of alternates and backups on the court. Third quarter shooting was just 38% with little offensive flow.
The defense, that stayed steady with just two Vanderbilt baskets in the period. Most Commodore turnovers the first half hadn’t been fully forced. This quarter was different with a series of steals. The top Bulldog beneficiary was Roshunda Johnson.
Having missed out on beating Missouri with her sick mother in Little Rock, the backup guard bombed five longballs. Four of them came consecutively as State’s lead reached 80-30.
“I just came in and did what I know to do,” Johnson said. “We wanted to keep punching.”
Johnson scored all her 17 points in the last half, and in just 13 minutes. Starting forward Breanna Richardson added a dozen Dog points to round out the double-digit scorers. The record SEC victory margin of 50 points was threatened but State backups missed nine fourth-quarter free throws to spoil the shot at history. It still was the second-largest winning margin in SEC action.
Vanderbilt’s leading scorers got to nine apiece, Erin Whalen and Rachel Bell. The Commodores shot just 23% overall with 24 turnovers. State ended up at 50% even and 9-of-20 at the arc. The Bulldogs led all but the 12 seconds it took to get that first bucket.
“Just a really special night by a special bunch of young ladies,” said Schaefer.
Those ladies will be in hostile conditions Sunday. Mississippi State visits Ole Miss for a 3:00 rematch, as the Bulldogs won the first meeting last month in Humphrey Coliseum.