STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — In the waning seconds of the third quarter during a lopsided game, Mississippi State point guard Jazzmun Holmes made one final good decision, whipping the ball to her right that started a chain reaction of passes around the perimeter. It eventually found Andra Espinoza-Hunter, who knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Before it even splashed through the net, coach Vic Schaefer was on his way to shake hands with Holmes.
“She was dialed in tonight,” Schaefer said. “I just love how that kid’s playing. She affects our team. I told her when she came to the huddle ‘When you’re dialed in, when you’re up on the ball and pushing the ball, it changes our team. It makes our team a No. 1 seed.'”
Mississippi State looked every bit like a No. 1 seed on Friday night, blowing past No. 16 seed Southern 103-46 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Anriel Howard scored 23 points and Teaira McCowan added 22 as the Bulldogs topped 100 points for the eighth time this season.
Bre’Amber Scott added 18 points and Jordan Danberry had 13. Holmes had her usual solid game with 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. The Bulldogs shot 53 percent from the field.
Mississippi State (31-2) didn’t have much trouble against the Jaguars, jumping out to a 37-10 lead by the end of the first quarter. Howard and McCowan both finished with double-doubles – McCowan had 16 rebounds and Howard had 12.
Schaefer said he was pleased with his team’s first and third quarters, even if the rest of the game was mediocre.
“We all believe that the first five minutes is something where we want to make a statement, first half and second half,” Howard said. “That’s something we pride ourselves on and coach talks to us about it all the time. I think we did that.”
Southern (20-13) briefly took a 3-2 lead early in the first quarter when Rishonti Cowart made a 3-pointer. That was the extent of the good news for the Jaguars, who gave up the next nine points and quickly fell behind.
The Jaguars were led by Skylar O’Bear, who scored nine points. Southern played hard, but the talent gap was substantial.
“McCowan is one of the best players in the country, if not the best player in the country. Howard is right there with her,” Southern coach Carlos Funchess said. “I thought we battled, but that size disadvantage really hurt us. … They’re one of the top teams in the country for a reason.”
Southern won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The Jaguars also won the SWAC regular-season title.
MCCOWAN’S FREE THROWS
The 6-foot-7 McCowan has become one of the nation’s best players over the past four years, slowly improving her footwork and rebounding to become nearly unstoppable in the post. But one of the achievements she’s most proud of is that she’s slowly turned into a very good free throw shooter.
She was 8 of 9 on free throws Friday night, pushing her season mark to around 76 percent. That’s up from a percentage that hovered in the 60s during her first three seasons.
“You get a free shot, uncontested, you’ve got to knock it down,” McCowan said.
Southern: The Jaguars had a good season with the SWAC’s regular-season and conference tournament titles, but they were simply overmatched by the Bulldogs. Southern did have a few good moments and actually outscored Mississippi State 19-18 in the second quarter.
Mississippi State: As expected, the Bulldogs cruised through the opener. Mississippi State will probably get a much better game from Clemson on Sunday in the second round.
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