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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Rebounding leads Bulldogs into Sweet Sixteen

The No. 2 Mississippi State Bulldogs defeated the No. 7 DePaul Blue Demons 92-71 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament.

Led by veteran coach Doug Bruno, DePaul matched Mississippi State’s fast tempo and stamina. The Blue Demons kept up with the Bulldogs, but it did not halt the new roster rotation from successfully distributing the ball and controlling the game tempo. Dominique Dillingham felt that the team’s new rotation shows the depth that Mississippi State has.

“I think we have ten starters,” Dillingham said. “I think we’re really deep and Blair and Ro deserve to start and much as me and Tori. We have a lot combination in practice and we’re used to playing with each other.”

Mississippi State left the first half with tight a 38-37 lead. Coach Bruno said DePaul’s faults were when they could not adjust to their opponents’ strategy to rebound, and their usual playing dynamic was disrupted by fouls and erratic shooting.

“One of the consequences of being a quick shooting team is if you quick shoot and miss you must defend and rebound,” Coach Bruno said. “If you don’t, you’re putting in a recipe for disaster. The third quarter we had some shots that we’d usually make and we missed them, but we simultaneously could not stop Mississippi State defensively.”

DePaul’s usual big, the 6’3 forward Jacqui Grant, had trouble defending DePaul’s basket and establishing her own defensive stride to stop the points in the paint. With both of Mississippi State centers Teaira McCowan and Chinwe Okorie getting in a rhythm on their own, Grant could not stop their combined 18 rebounds and 20 points for the Bulldogs.

The duo had a height advantage with Okorie standing at 6’5 and McCowan at 6’7, helping Mississippi State outrebounded DePaul 48-26. Head Coach Vic Schaefer said the team’s “two headed monster” will change the way Mississippi State will play in the tournament.

“We will win a lot of games with that stat line for those two,” Coach Schaefer said. “I think those two are feeding off of each other.”

With the mix match at the post, DePaul fell short of defending at the perimeter for Mississippi State. It allowed the Mississippi State guards to put up big numbers, specifically Blair Schaefer. Schaefer collected a team-leading 18 points, continuing her outstanding shooting performance of 21 points against the Troy Trojans in the first round. Schaefer felt the double and triple teaming the centers in the paint gave the opportunistic Bulldogs guards a chance to show off their versatile offensive weapons.

“I felt like we had a lot of time to get our shots off,” Schaefer said. “They were putting a lot of emphasis on our post today since they’re good and tall. It opened up the perimeter for us and we knew we had to be ready and have a good shot.”

Mississippi State came out of the third quarter with an explosive offense to wear down DePaul. Coach Schaefer said he created new plays to adapt to their intensity to secure a lead entering the fourth quarter.

“At halftime, I felt like we were up ten and we were only up one,” Coach Schaefer said. “Coming out in the third quarter, I was really proud about how we responded immediately out of the gate. I thought we executed offensively.”

Dominique Dillingham said the team’s execution helped them surpass the Blue Demon’s attempt to take advantage of the one-point difference. Sophomore Jazzmun Holmes checked in for Morgan William and created opportunities for Mississippi State and deconstructed DePaul’s offense.

“Coach gave us a couple of plays to execute after halftime and we executed them perfectly,” Dillingham said. “It helped when we had Jazz out there running the team.”

Holmes played the point guard position with poise and control, contributing 14 points, six assists and two steals. Mississippi State completed a 23-13 run to end the third quarter leading DePaul 61-50. Holmes’ first play off the bench was a steal for the Bulldogs.

“Once I got the steal I felt my adrenaline pumping,” Holmes said. “Once I felt it, I knew.”

Coach Schaefer said how Holmes led the 7th ranked team in the nation to a victory showed more about what she can do only as a sophomore.

“She played with a presence today,” Schaefer said. “When you have a kid on the bench, you want them to watch and make plays when they get on the floor. She played as the most important position on the team.”

The Hump had an attendance of 6,035 to watch the four seniors play their last game against the Blue Demons. Senior guard Dominique Dillingham said the farewell for the seniors to advance to the Sweet Sixteen was a great environment to leave behind.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing this was the last time I play at The Hump,” Dillingham said. “It’s a great feeling to know how much we accomplished during the four years we were here.”

Dillingham’s strict defensive performance held DePaul’s usual shooter senior Brooke Shulte to only sixteen points. Dillingham completed her milestone of 1000 points as a Bulldog on free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. She entered March Madness only seventeen points away from the goal. She finished her last game at The Hump with ten points, three rebounds and two steals.
Capturing the 92-71 win over DePaul, Mississippi State will advance to the Sweet Sixteen. They also make history by advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in back to back seasons for the first time in school history. The Bulldogs will travel to Oklahoma City to face the winner of No. 3 Washington and No. 6 Oklahoma.

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Rebounding leads Bulldogs into Sweet Sixteen