Mississippi State coaches' long hours pay dividends

 

MSU Coach Vic Schaefer cuts down the net after the Bulldogs captured the SEC championship Sunday.

MSU Coach Vic Schaefer cuts down the net after the Bulldogs captured the SEC championship Sunday.
Photo by: Adam Minichino/Special to The Dispatch

 

Jazzmun Holmes (10), Teaira McCowan (15) and Anriel Howard (5), along with their teammates, credit head coach Vic Schaefer and his staff for providing the support necessary to finish as SEC regular and tournament champions.

Jazzmun Holmes (10), Teaira McCowan (15) and Anriel Howard (5), along with their teammates, credit head coach Vic Schaefer and his staff for providing the support necessary to finish as SEC regular and tournament champions.
Photo by: Adam Minichino/Special to The Dispatch

 

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

Johnnie Harris and the Mississippi State women's basketball team expected to find themselves lost in a sea of confetti Sunday afternoon. 

 

After three years of frustration, Harris believed the timing was right for MSU to win the program's first Southeastern Conference tournament title. That's why Harris, head coach Vic Schaefer, and the rest of the coaching staff stayed up all night to ensure No. 1 seed MSU had every part of the game plan was covered for No. 10 seed Arkansas. 

 

The effort that followed in MSU's 101-70 victory at Bon Secours Wellness Arena validated that preparation. In ending a string of three-straight losses to South Carolina in the SEC tournament championship game, MSU (30-2) scored the most points in a SEC tournament title game, posted the largest margin of victory in that game, and was part of the highest scoring SEC championship game in league history. 

 

All of those elements made it sweeter for Harris, who has been Schaefer's associate head coach since he took over the program in 2012. 

 

"It feels good to have this for coach Schaefer, for me personally, which is why came here," said Harris, who also worked with Schaefer and Gary Blair to help Texas A&M win a national title in 2011. "It also feels good for these young ladies who have worked their butts off." 

 

Schaefer, Harris, Dionnah Jackson-Durrett, and Elena Lovato worked into the wee hours to have a plan for every contingency. Former Bulldogs turned coaches Dominique Dillingham and Ketara Chapel did their parts, too, to make sure MSU was ready. The result was the 10th time a team has scored 100 or more points in a SEC tournament game. It was the first time a team accomplished that feat since Vanderbilt beat Florida 105-77 on March 2, 2007. The 171 total points also eclipsed the previous high of 166 set in Georgia's 94-72 victory against LSU in the 1986 tournament. 

 

Those games are now lost to history, much like MSU's last three trips to the SEC tournament title game that ended in disappointment after losses to South Carolina. The only history that matters today is MSU's place at the top of the SEC after a second-straight SEC regular-season title and its first tournament championship. 

 

All of the Bulldogs had a chance to reflect on the accomplishments of an 18-1 record in league play in the 2018-19 season on an off day Monday that came a day late.  

 

"We stayed up to get to this moment, to put our kids in a position to where we could have this moment," Harris said. 

 

Tournament MVP Teaira McCowan and Jazzmun Holmes are two leaders in a senior class that has set the program record for wins in a career. Their comments after the game Sunday reflected the confidence the entire team had in the coaching staff to help it make history. 

 

"I know coach is going to do whatever it takes to win," said Holmes, who had 12 assists, which was one shy of her career high. "He's going to give us his best, whether we're up by 30 or up by 10. I mean, all of our coaches are going to give their all.  

 

I think we just have to play for them, not only for the name on the front of our jersey and the back, we have to play for our coaches because they're going to give their all all the time.  

 

Said McCowan, "Our coaches, they give us a lot. They don't go to sleep. (Coach Jackson-Durrett) has a baby. She doesn't get any sleep. Just them sacrificing their life, their time to make sure that we have a game plan that we can go out and execute to the fullest, I mean, I thank them for that. (I am) very grateful for our coaching staff. (It is) one of the best in the country, if not the best." 

 

That coaching staff awaits its next assignment. Wins by Connecticut and Baylor on Monday in the championship games of the American Athletic Conference and the Big 12 Conference, respectively, helped complete the picture for the NCAA tournament selection committee. The next step is to crunch the numbers and to determine how MSU stacks up to Notre Dame, Louisville, and Oregon. Only four of those six teams can earn No. 1 seeds. If MSU climbs past Louisville and Oregon, it likely will be sent to Portland as a top seed, which means a rematch against Oregon could be in the offing. Don't worry, though, because Schaefer and all of his coaches won't look past any of the opponents that will be revealed at 6 p.m. Monday, March 18, in the NCAA Tournament Selection Show. Fans will have a chance to watch the show with the Bulldogs in Humphrey Coliseum. Admission is free, and doors will open at 4:45 p.m. MSU's clear bag policy and regular game day security screening will be in place. Concessions will be available at the event. 

 

Until then, MSU will exhale and gear up for the third season. The goal this time is to take one more step and end two years of frustration in the national title game. 

 

If Schaefer and the Bulldogs have their way, the Bulldogs will plan to get lost in another sea of confetti next month in Tampa, Florida. 

 

"We can do anything we put our minds to," Holmes said when asked if she thought MSU could win a national title. "This team is different than last year's team and the teams before. I just feel like if we play together and execute the game plan, do what he says, I mean, he's done it before. Today we proved we can do anything we put our minds to, so I believe it." 

 

Said Schaefer, "We'll go wherever they send us. I'm not trading my team for anybody else's. I'm taking this group and we'll go play. I don't care who it is or where. I could care less.  

 

I think these kids feel the same way. We'll keep doing what we are doing." 

 

Adam Minichino is former sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at aminichino@cdispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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