At a certain point over the last few years, Vic Schaefer probably got used to making history. Surely, each achievement was nice in the moment, but as week-after-week and game-after-game involved some kind of new school record or high water mark, the novelty had to have worn off at least a little.
In any other circumstance, and for many other programs, today would have been a big deal for the record it included, but the piece of history made today in Starkville is borderline inconsequential in comparison with the rest of the year. The fact that this 30th win of the season for Mississippi State was a school record means little if more wins don’t follow it.
Today, much more so than history, a statement was made. After a hard end to the regular season, after several weeks of struggling offensively, the Bulldogs emphatically declared on Friday afternoon in Humphrey Coliseum that they are back. In front of thousands at The Hump, State returned to form, playing like the team those fans saw in January that look destined for the Final Four and capable of beating anyone in the country.
They were rebounding, they were stealing, they were scoring and defending. They hit shots, blocked shots and called their shots. They stole buzzer beaters, accepted free throws, clogged the lane and caught absolute fire on the perimeter.
MSU completely dominated Troy, breaking into triple digits in an NCAA Tournament game as they won 110-69. History be darned, with the Bulldogs playing at their best, the Trojans just didn’t have the horses to keep up.
Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was a return to form for MSU, and it appeared in some respects to possibly even be version 2.0 of these Bulldogs with a massive shakeup to the starting lineup and impressive performances from the starters and bench players alike.
Blair Schaefer got her second start of the year and rewarded her coaches with a career-high 21 points, scoring all of State’s first 11 points to start the game. Roshunda Johnson was inserted into the starting lineup and she, too, made the call look equally as smart, dropping 13 points in 17 minutes.
It was, perhaps, the quietest double-digit scoring game of Victoria Vivians’s career, but Schaefer’s decision to take her out of the starting lineup for the first time all season paid dividends. Having been in a slump to finish the season, the All-SEC Vivians shot 5-of-11, scored 13 points and brought in six rebounds despite only playing for 16 minutes.
All told, MSU had five players in double-digits, but their defense was even more impressive. Bulldogs out-rebounded Trojans 61-48, racking up seven blocks and 11 steals along the way, forcing 21 turnovers and holding Troy to 31.3 percent shooting.
This was the kind of game that leads the more clichéd writers to lead off a story with the definition of dominate (“Exercise control over,” if you were curious). Behind Schaefer’s scheming and his players’ production, the Bulldogs absolutely dominated the Trojans in the manner of a prize fighter who deflects every shot the opponent takes and lands every punch they throw.
The unrelenting attack, the smothering performance, seemed to declare that Mississippi State is ready for any foe this tournament may provide. The field is sliced in half with each round, and the Bulldogs don’t plan to be cut any time soon.