It helps a bit that Vic Schaefer and Gene Hackman look at least a little similar – they could certainly pass for cousins, if not necessarily brothers – as it would be easy to imagine that Schaefer, head coach of Mississippi State’s No. 6 women’s basketball team, would have given a halftime interview along the lines of the football coach Hackman played in the film The Replacements.
“Coach,” Hackman’s character, Jimmy McGinty, was asked by a reporter as he went into the locker room, “what’s it going to take to win this game?”
“Heart,” he replied, tapping his chest. “Miles and miles of heart.”
Heart, it seemed, was what MSU was lacking in many moments of the first half of its SEC Tournament game against LSU. The shots were the obvious thing the Bulldogs were missing, particularly in a woeful nine-point second quarter, but the drive to take over the game, to dominate an opponent MSU had demonstrated before it was better than, was falling short, as well.
The second half didn’t start out much better than the first, State continuing to struggle, but late in the third quarter, a hero emerged. Naturally, it was a senior who stepped up as fourth-year forward Ketara Chapel hit three buckets in four possessions, giving the Bulldogs a spark of life just as the Tigers were threatening to not just take the lead, but to perhaps run away with it if MSU didn’t start hitting shots.
“I felt like our momentum started coming and our press picked up a lot,” Chapel said when asked about the third quarter run.
As the second half wound on, MSU’s shooting picked up, and as it did so, Chapel’s consistency never wavered, as she ended up scoring 10 points by the end of the game, not missing a single shot. And it wasn’t just that Chapel was hitting shots, but that was she collecting important rebounds, setting effective picks, making smart passes and generally playing good all-around basketball. She wasn’t the highest scorer in the game, nor she did she lead in a single other category.
Unless, of course, you count heart. And Schaefer, as those who follow him know very well, always does.
“Ketara, what can you say about her?” Schaefer asked reporters in his post-game press conference. “She went down in practice with a back issue yesterday. I didn’t even know she was gonna play today.”
Chapel was one of several over the course of the night who stepped up to impact the game, joining fellow senior forward Breanna Richardson, whose 10-point first quarter was the highlight of the opening period, just as it was also the reason MSU was able to build any kind of an early lead. Junior point guard Morgan William helped calm her team and set the pace, scoring a game-high 21 points to help MSU ultimately take home a 78-61 victory in a game that was much closer until the final moments.
“I thought our kids showed some toughness tonight and some resilience,” Schaefer said.
Though he expressed that perhaps none showed more than the quiet Chapel, who didn’t even play for the entire first half, only entering the game in the third quarter when Schaefer thought Richardson was getting tired.
“She couldn’t walk hardly yesterday when she got tangled up in practice,” Schaefer said. “I didn’t even think about putting her in until Bre got winded in the third quarter.”
Once Chapel got in, good things followed. However, while Schaefer was surprised Chapel was able to play, he wasn’t at all taken back by her performance once she began playing. Just recently, he and Chapel had spent 30 minutes in the gym after practice, just the two of them, perfecting her shot. He knew she would be ready when the time came.
“I can see it in her eyes,” Schaefer said. “She’s confident. She’s battle tested. She wants to be in the moment.”
And when the moment came, when heart was needed, Chapel delivered. There is, perhaps, one more McGinty quote Schaefer could have easily made his own as he praised Chapel after MSU’s win.
Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line.