Mississippi State learns valuable lessons from 1st loss
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Mississippi State guard Blair Schaefer said the Bulldogs didn't need to lose a game to be properly motivated heading into the NCAA Tournament later this month.
It happened anyway.
The program's 32-game winning streak was stopped on Sunday in the SEC Tournament title game when South Carolina beat Mississippi State 62-51 . Bulldogs' coach Vic Schaefer agreed with his daughter, saying his team always knew it wasn't invincible, but the disappointing loss helped make that fact completely clear.
"What happened (Sunday) is what I've been worried about for 32 games and it became reality in game 33," Vic Schaefer said. "We didn't make shots. So when you're not making shots, what else can you do to help us win?"
Mississippi State (32-1) has had a fairly consistent formula for success this season. Senior guard Victoria Vivians and junior post player Teaira McCowan are the main offensive options - combining to average nearly 40 points per game. The rest of the starting lineup is filled with solid 3-point shooters who spread the floor and give the Vivians-McCowan combo room to work.
But against South Carolina, McCowan got into early foul trouble and the 3-pointers weren't falling. The Gamecocks flourished in the gritty defensive battle, beating the Bulldogs 38-23 in rebounding and pulling away for the victory.
"There's a level of intensity we have to have every single game and we just didn't have that against South Carolina," Blair Schaefer said.
Vic Schaefer made it a point to say the sky isn't falling in Starkville and his team can still accomplish its goal of winning the school's first national championship. The Bulldogs fell just short last season, advancing to the title game before falling to South Carolina.
Last year's NCAA Tournament run included a stunning victory over UConn, which is still the Huskies' only loss over the past five seasons. Mississippi State might be capable of similar things this season, but only if it makes adjustments after the sobering setback against South Carolina.
"It taught us not to depend on one thing," Vivians said. "Our shot wasn't falling so we have to do something different."
Vic Schaefer said the next 10 days or so will be crucial to determining Mississippi State's immediate future. There's certainly a sense of urgency that this might be the Bulldogs' best shot at a national title - four of the team's five starters are seniors.
The coach said he'll give his team a few days off to regroup and recover from a long season. Then it's back to practice, where the Bulldogs will have the fresh sting of defeat to motivate them - whether it was needed or not.
"You better learn from it," Vic Schaefer said. "You better go to the film room, you better take notes, you better understand we made some mistakes and we've got to correct them. That was the beauty of last year's team. We went to the film room and got better."
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP .