Mississippi State guard Dominique Dillingham (00) drives the ball past Ole Miss guard Shandricka Sessom during the teams’ game in Oxford on Sunday.


OXFORD — No. 4 Mississippi State shot 6.7 percent from three-point range against Ole Miss Sunday afternoon. That’s not a typo. The State women were a woeful 1 for 15 from beyond the arc.

And that’s not all.

Victoria Vivians, State’s top scorer for three seasons running, made only 3 of 21 field goal tries.

Point guard Morgan Williams was 1 for 5. Dominique Dillingham was 5 for 13. The Bulldogs turned it over 15 times, 11 times in the second half when Vic Schaefer, the State coach, said, “We really mucked it up.”

Yes, and State, despite all that, still trounced Ole Miss 66-44, turning The Pavilion at Ole Miss into a home away from home. The Bulldogs won by 22 on the road against their arch-rival despite their worst perimeter shooting night of the season.

That’s a measure of how dominant this State team is. They can shoot poorly and still win big, on the road.

Here’s why: Defense, rebounding and just flat-out effort will overcome a world of shortcomings. This State team never takes a night off on defense, rebounding and effort.

Defense? Dillingham was assigned to cover Shandricka Sessom, the Rebels’ high-jumping, all-SEC candidate who has scored 16, 18 and 14 points in her last three games. Sessom was scoreless from the field and tallied just three points, about 10 below her average. If she was chewing gum, Dillingham knows what brand because she was in her face all night.

Rebounding? The Bulldogs out-rebounded the Rebels 52-37, led by 6-foot, 7-inch sophomore Teaira McCowan, who lifted State with 17 points and 18 rebounds. Afterward Ole Miss coach Matt Insell told about one of his players coming to the bench and saying of McCowan, “I’m trying, Coach, but she’s just so big.”

Yes, she is. And she seems to improve with each game.

Effort? Nothing inspires effort like competition and Schaefer has so much depth, the players know all-out effort is required if they want to stay on the floor. Dillingham may lead the country in floor burns, but we also saw McCowan, Vivians and others diving for loose balls Sunday.

Rick Cleveland

There are times when this State team steps on the accelerator and shows just how good it can be. The second quarter Sunday was one of those times. The Bulldogs out-scored Ole Miss 24-4, limited the Rebels to one field goal, and nearly doubled them in rebounding 17-9. In that remarkable 10 minutes of basketball, State passed out five assists, had no turnovers and stole the ball four times. McCowan scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots in just that one quarter. That’s not counting all the shots she altered with those long arms. She just took over is what she did.

“Late in the second quarter, it seemed like we got our second wind and kicked it up a notch, while it seemed like they got a little tired,” Schaefer said. “It seemed like we got every loose ball.”

So now State moves to 25-1 overall and 11-1 in the SEC. The Bulldogs have Georgia, Texas A & M, Kentucky and Tennessee left to play in the regular season. “Murderers’ Row,” Schaefer called it.

And, the Bulldogs like the rest of women’s college basketball, are keeping tabs on No. 1 Connecticut, which will host South Carolina Monday night in a nationally televised game.

“We’ll be watching,” Dillingham said.

Not Schaefer, who said he’ll be in Texas recruiting, trying to add more talent, more depth to a program he has built into a national powerhouse, a program with a fast-growing following.

Schaefer glanced down at his stat sheet. “It says here there were over 4,600 people here today,” he said. “At least half of them were our fans and they were loud.”

Of course, they did have much more to cheer.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.