NASHVILLE, TN — The stands at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee were filled with maroon as the no. 2 Mississippi State Bulldogs (32-0, 16-0) matched up against the no. 15 Texas A&M Aggies (24-9, 11-5).
The last time these two teams faced off, the Bulldogs took home a 76-55 victory. Initially, in the first period of the game, Texas A & M was able to steal the lead, leaving Mississippi State with some work to do defensively. Luckily, Morgan William helped offensively to make sure the Aggies didn’t get too far ahead. The first period came to close with a final score of 18-15 with the Aggies in the lead.
“We might have started the game off a little slow in the first," William said. "Tomorrow we can’t do that. I know my teammates have my back."
The two teams remained neck-and-neck before Mississippi State took the lead and ran with it after Blair Schaefer drilled a triple and tied up the score at 20 points. This was followed by a Jazzmun Holmes layup which gave the Bulldogs the lead they had been waiting for.
Now, the only question was if they could keep it. With star shooters like Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, it became difficult to keep a sound defensive guard for the Bulldogs. Yet, with 42 seconds left in the second, Chloe Bibby flew in with a jumper that brought Mississippi State to an eight-point lead, 36-28.
The Aggies were in for a rude awakening, as the Bulldogs kept on the pressure to widen its advantage after intermission. Mississippi State didn’t hesitate to strike, as Victoria Vivians started to make those shots that she normally makes. By the end of the third period, Vivians racked up 20 points, three rebounds, and one assist.
Closing out the third quarter, the Bulldogs were up 54-40 after holding the Aggies to 12 points in the third stanza.
Mississippi Head Coach Vic Schaefer shed some light on Vivans’ plays.
“Tori’s shots were very timely and she made big ones when we needed it," Schaefer said.
Mississippi State had the cheering of their roaring fans to motivate them on the court tonight and ultimately, they had widened the gap to 19 points with six minutes left in the game. Teaira McCowan had already snatched 13 rebounds in addition to her six points by the middle of the final quarter. Roshunda Johnson drained her third triple for the Bulldogs, which brought the score to 68-51.
The rest of the game was all Bulldogs, as they ended up punching their ticket to the SEC Championship with a 70-55 win and earning the right to face off against the no. 8 team and defending NCAA champion South Carolina Gamecocks.
Vivians talked after the game about how Mississippi State would need to play a more focused game on Sunday.
“Tomorrow we have to go in and be focused and not just play basketball, we have to play great defense,” Vivians stated.
Schaefer praised his team's response to being pushed to their limit on both ends.
“I’m awfully proud of my team, my kids. I was really proud of how our kids responded," Schaefer said. "We were accountable and give credit to Texas A&M. They play as well as anyone in the country. We shared the ball, had good execution and only 5 turnovers."
He then switched the conversation to Sunday's matchup with South Carolina.
“We are built for this we have trained for this moment. These kids have worked for this," Schaefer said. "If we lose tomorrow, its not because we’re tired or sore. We do things for a reason. We are built for this. They believe it I believe it. No matter who it is, we will be ready to go.”