Teaira McCowan (15) , all 6 feet, 7 inches of her, was diving all over The Hump after loose balls Sunday.

STARKVILLE – Let us begin today’s effort with a question: If I had told you five years ago that Mississippi State’s women’s basketball team would one day defeat Tennessee by 28 points before more than 10,000 fans at The Hump, what would you have said?

Rick Cleveland

That’s right. You would have said I was absolutely nuts. But you would have never had that chance, because I would have never said something so far-fetched, so outlandish.

But then here we are, mid-afternoon on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, and Vic Schaefer’s Bulldogs just polished off the proud Lady Vols 91-63 before 10,021 at The Hump. We need to date it, because this was history. This was the worst SEC defeat in Tennessee history.

MSU coach Vic Schaefer was rocking a pink tie and pink sneakers, while his Bulldogs rocked Tennessee.

No. 6 – and should be higher – State moved to 22-1 on the season, 10-0 in the SEC by out-scoring Tennessee 40-16 over the game’s last 19 minutes.

It was a close, competitive game – and then it wasn’t. If you went to restroom or concession stand, you could have missed it. It was as if State switched to a gear Tennessee did not possess.

Said Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, “Mississippi State is a great basketball team. We hung with them for three quarters and then they made a run and we could not answer.”

It was more like they couldn’t breathe, much less get a rebound or an open shot. State swarmed the Vols, just annihilated them over the last 19 minutes.

For those not so familiar with women’s basketball, this is the same Tennessee program that has won eight national championships and a combined 35 SEC championships – the same Tennessee that had won 37 of 41 previous games against Mississippi State. I remember coming to see Tennessee play here a few years ago when there was far more orange than maroon in the crowd.

That’s how much things have changed since Vic Schaefer came to State seven years ago. This day, there was a smattering of orange in the crowd that mostly wore pink for “Think Pink Day” to acknowledge the fight against breast cancer. The 10,000-plus  were clearly maroon at heart and you should have heard them late in the first quarter when Teaira McCowan, all 6 feet, 7 inches of her, went flying into the scorer’s table after a loose ball. Schaefer has more than hinted that there are times when McCowan, a legit national player of the year candidate, sometime is not as “locked in” as she could be.

She was ever more locked in Sunday, diving to the floor after loose balls and dominating the lanes on both ends of the floor. She scored 24 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked three shots, all game-highs for State.

Nobody could stay in front of super-fast State guard Jordan Danberry Sunday at The Hump.

Everybody knows – or should know – about McCowan, but what is becoming increasingly evident is just how good the Bulldog guards are. Jazzmun Holmes, the point guard, passed out eight assists, compared to one turnover, scored seven points and had two steals. Jordan Danberry, the fastest player on the floor, scored 20 points on 10 of 15 shooting, passed out four assists and did not turn the ball over. It appeared Danberry could go around the person guarding her any time she wanted.

She appeared so fast, I had to ask her if she ever ran track.

Yes, she answered, she ran the 100, the 200 and the hurdles in high school.

Next question: Did she ever lose?

“Only one girl beat me,” Danberry answered. “Malica Monk.”

Monk is Arkansas’ point guard. Clearly, she is really, really fast because Danbury is often a blur.

Tennessee, now 15-8 and 4-6, was matching State basket for basket and trailing only 51-47 with four minutes to play in the third quarter. Danberry scored the next three buckets – two on driving layups – to push that lead to 57-49. Bre’Amber Scott’s 3-pointer with five seconds left in the quarter made if 61-49.

State was just getting started.

“Our team was special today,” Schaefer said. “I told them going into the fourth quarter we wanted to punch them hard that first five minutes, and, boy, did we ever punch them.”

Tennessee has played national powers Notre Dame and Stanford and Warlick said State compares favorably with either one. In fact, she said she expects State, which has played in the national championship game two consecutive years, to contend for the national championship again.

“I think they have a great opportunity,” Warlick said. “They have a great inside game and guards who are super quick. They’re tough. They grind it out and they are competitors…. I think they have a great shot.”

Five years ago, who would have thought that?

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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.