Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer gives Teaira McCowan a hug as she exits the Humphrey Coliseum floor for the last time as a Bulldog. She received a much-deserved standing ovation.

STARKVILLE – While ESPN interviewed a couple of his stars at mid-court, Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer took the public address microphone and addressed the crowd of 9,994 late Sunday night at Humphrey Coliseum.

Schaefer  thanked his seniors. He recited some of their amazing accomplishments, and then he thanked the crowd.

“You’ve been special for these players,” Schaefer said. “I hope you know they love you as much as you love them. And I hope you also know: We’re not done.”

Rick Cleveland

No, the Bulldogs are not. Top-seeded State trounced Clemson 85-61 Sunday night to move to 32-2 on the season and into the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. State will play Arizona State Friday night at Portland. Clemson finished the season 20-13.

One day after she wasn’t named as one of the four finalists for the Naismith Trophy that supposedly goes to the nation’s most outstanding college player, Teaira McCowan showed why she should have been. Playing her last game at The Hump, McCowan scored 30 points on 14 of 17 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked six shots and stole the ball twice. As is nearly always the case, she altered more shots than she blocked and caused so many more shots not to be taken. She owned the paint.

Mississippi State’s Jordan Danberry (24) goes up for two of her 18 points in State’s victory over Clemson.

Anriel Howard, another senior (actually a graduate), scored 21 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and blocked three shots. Jordan Danberry scored 18 points and point guard Jazzmun Holmes, the fourth senior starter, directed the show with six points, seven assists and all-night, on-ball defense.

Post-game, Clemson coach Amanda Butler kept talking about how fast State’s guards, Holmes and Danberry, are. They are lightning quick – and fast. Don’t know who would win a foot race between the two, but know this: It would not take long.

“I thought our guards were really, really special tonight, especially in the first half,” Schaefer said. “I watched Clemson’s guards score 52 of their of 75 points the other night. They made everything. I was really concerned about them.”

Those two guards – Danielle Edwards and Simone Westbrook – shot a combined 12 of 31 Sunday night.

Said Schaefer, “I’ll take that.”

Friday night, Schaefer said, Holmes and Danberry already had decided who was going to cover whom.

“You gotta love that,” Schaefer said. “They were taking responsibility already. They were ready for the task.”

State led by 13 after one quarter, by 19 at halftime. Really, there was only one moment of suspense.

That came in the third quarter when McCowan, mysteriously left the court and headed for the locker room. Nobody saw her get hurt. She came back shortly thereafter to a huge ovation.

Asked about it afterward, McCowan smiled shyly and said, “No comment.”

Her coach, sitting just to her right, decided to help out.

“Teaira has had this stomach bug…” he said, to which McCowan interjected, cutting him off, “I said no comment.”

Everybody got a laugh out of that.

But the tone turned serious a few moments later when the subject turned to the trip out west later in the week.

Vic Schaefer talks to Anriel Howard (5), who scored 21 points and had 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs.

“I know all about Arizona State,” Schaefer said. “I know their style extremely well. I’ve played them before. I watch them. They are a really tough, aggressive, physical basketball team. If you don’t have your hardhat on when you play then, you are liable to get busted.”

Beat Arizona State and the Bulldogs probably would play the Oregon Ducks on what would amount to a home game for the home-state team. The Bulldogs really know all about Oregon. On Dec. 18, at Oregon, the Ducks beat the Dogs 82-74.

But when you reach the Sweet 16, it’s not supposed to be easy. This is State’s fourth Sweet 16 in a row – something that should never be taken for granted, just as these State seniors should not be.

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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.