Some things, despite the lengths many go to in an effort to describe them, can be explained pretty easily. The redwoods in California are big. A sunset after the rain has cleared is colorful. Popcorn at the movies is salty. Nuance is nice, and descriptors are helpful, but often it’s easier just to call things what they are.
Mississippi State’s performance against Texas A&M was just dominant. No frills, no froof, no Disney move storylines – just a completely dominant performance. You could go with the student-becomes-the-teacher angle as MSU coach Vic Schaefer took down his longtime boss in A&M coach Gary Blair, but even a narrative as seemingly innocent as that would take away from what the game actually was to Schaefer’s Bulldogs.
Saturday night in the SEC Tournament semi-finals was a response. It was a statement. It was a heavyweight boxer shaking off the cobwebs of what looked like a knockout blow and rising up to show that not only are they still standing, but they’re still punching. And this was a punch that landed, as State took down the Aggies 66-50, leading by 20-plus for all but a couple minutes of the second half and advancing to the SEC Tournament Championship against South Carolina on Sunday night.
“I thought we played extremely well tonight,” Schaefer said afterward. “I was proud of our kids for how they came out and played. I thought we came out with a lot of intensity.”
Perhaps what was so impressive about the performance for MSU was that it didn’t come on the back of one player having a career night, or a couple of them going off unexpectedly. It was a full team performance, a domination from every spot on the roster. Even at halftime it was clear, when nine Bulldogs had entered the game and all nine had scored. State’s leaders in points, rebounds, blocks and assists were all different people.
Whatever lethargy had been plaguing MSU appears eradicated. Whatever demon was troubling State’s soul when the regular season concluded appears to have been exorcised by means of giving the Aggies a workout of their own in Greenville, South Carolina.
“It was frustrating to know people were playing with more heart than us,” senior Dominique Dillingham said of the recent struggles, affirming she believes her team got its heart back.
Perhaps the rest of the SEC had a quick moment to attempt to slay the briefly sleeping giant that is MSU basketball, but the Bulldogs stated emphatically on Saturday night, they ain’t dead yet. No, in fact, they’re wide awake and their muscles have been flexed.
Their performance seemed to say that those who got their shots in were lucky to have done so when they did, and those who must face MSU going forward will encounter a team intent on asserting its dominance.
“We stubbed our toe,” Schaefer said, “against two really good teams. Okay. They bounced back, and that’s what I expected them to do.
“For our kids,” he continued, “there’s a sense of pride. I think our kids see the investment that is in our program in a number of ways. When you’ve got all those fans that have traveled this far, and spent all that money to be here, you don’t want to let them down.”
Next up for the Bulldogs: a chance at redemption and revenge against the Gamecocks of South Carolina with the SEC Tournament Championship on the line.
“We want to beat them,” junior point guard Morgan William said. “We’ve just got to keep playing like we’ve been playing.”