Mississippi State’s women’s basketball team, ranked fourth in the coaches’ poll and No. 5 in the media poll, has one luxury that most teams lack: Two dominant players at the post position. And that’s a big reason, two reasons actually, State’s record now stands at 22-1.
Thursday night, in a 77-47 road victory over Auburn, starter Chinwe Okorie scored 16 points and pulled down six rebounds, and back-up Teaira McCowan scored 15 points and added five rebounds. Together, that’s 31 points and 11 rebounds from the post position and that’s not all.
Okorie and McCowan combined to make 12 of 16 (75 percent) of their field goal attempts. Get the ball to them in the paint, they aren’t quite automatic, but they are as close as you will find.
That’s why Vic Schaefer, the Bulldogs’ coach, is preaching to his team: When we have the ball, let’s look inside first.
“We’ve got to do a better job of feeding the post,” Schaefer said in a phone conversation Friday morning. “We’ve got to do a better job of realizing who is open and then get the ball to them at the right time and in the right spot.”
Okorie, a 6-foot-5 senior, and McCowan, a 6-7 sophomore, are both shooting 59 percent from the floor. Together, they are averaging about 18 points and 12 rebounds per game, numbers that Schaefer knows could be higher.
He also knows this: The more State gets the ball to the Okorie and McCowan down low, the more the open perimeter shots will be available to State’s outside shooters.
“Anytime you establish that inside presence, it opens it up for you do to more things on the perimeter,” Schaefer said.
The defense is left with two choices: One, play Okorie and McCowan straight up and hope your post player can stop them; or, two, sag back into the lane to try and deny the ball to Okorie and McCowan and leave perimeter shooters open. Neither is a good choice, as Auburn learned.
Okorie, the senior, is the stronger of the two. McCowan has the superior ball skills and a remarkably soft shooting touch around the basket.
“She’s really coming on,” Schaefer said of McCowan. “She’s 6-7 but she’s also the most agile and flexible player we’ve got on the team.”
State out-scored Auburn 21-5 in the fourth quarter with McCowan doing much of the damage. She scored nine of her 13 second half points in the fourth.
The Bulldogs return home to play Missouri on Super Bowl Sunday in a 1:30 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPNU.
Missouri will bring a five-game win streak to The Hump. The Tigers, 16-7 overall, are 6-3 in the league and coming off a 73-67 conquest of Kentucky.
“Missouri is playing extremely well,” Schaefer said. “They are 3-1 against the top half of the league and they are playing their best basketball right now.”