Dillingham leads No. 6 Mississippi State past Texas A&M
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — No. 6 Mississippi State seems to break new ground each time it steps on the court. It gets another chance to accomplish that Sunday.
The Bulldogs won their program-record 29th game this season, beating Texas A&M 66-50 to reach the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals for the second straight season.
They’ll attempt to win the school’s first ever title against two-time defending champion No. 5 South Carolina.
“They’re trying to raise their game to reach South Carolina,” Aggies coach Gary Blair said about Mississippi State. “They’ve got a chance.”
Especially if they play as they did in quickly putting away Texas A&M. Dominique Dillingham scored 14 points and Morgan William had 12 to help the Bulldogs (29-3) surpass the school’s previous best of 28 wins set last year.
“Another record today,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “It’s an amazing, amazing group of young ladies I’ve got the privilege to coach.”
The Bulldogs have lost nine straight to South Carolina, including last year’s tournament finals and a down-to-the-wire, 64-61 loss in Columbia that was one of the year’s best games. The result, which ended Mississippi State’s perfect start, might’ve dented the psyche of some teams. Not the Bulldogs.
“We didn’t walk out of there hanging our heads and saying, ‘Dang, we just lost the championship.’ We walked out of there thinking, ‘Hey, we’re pretty good,’” Schaefer said.
The Bulldogs certainly were, winning their next seven straight before dropping two in the final week that handed the regular-season title to the Gamecocks. Now, comes the chance to put one in Mississippi State’s column after nine straight losses in the series.
“We’ll go into tomorrow with confidence knowing we can play with them and we can win,” Dillingham said.
All-SEC first-team selection Victoria Vivians was off her game for a second straight night. Vivians, who made just one of five shots for five points in a Bulldogs win Friday night, was just 4 of 14 from the field for 10 points against Texas A&M (21-11).
Not that it mattered all that much in this one. Mississippi State was up 14 points at the break and stretched the margin to 24 in the third quarter.
It was a disappointing performance for Blair, had hoped for a better showing against his one-time assistant in Schaefer. With the loss, it was the first time Texas A&M lost three times in the same season to an SEC opponent.
Danni Williams had 13 points before fouling out to lead Texas A&M.
THE BIG PICTURE
Texas A&M: The Aggies rely heavily on their starters — their reserves don’t have a point in two SEC Tournament games so far. That run ended against Mississippi State as backup Jasmine Lumpkin made two foul shots in the fourth quarter. Jasmine Williams later added a basket off the bench. Anriel Howard, who led the way in the Aggies upset of No. 23 Missouri, on Friday night, could not find the same touch early against the Bulldogs. She was just 2-of-8 shooting for four points.
Mississippi State: If Schaefer learned anything from his old boss at Arkansas and Texas A&M, Blair, it was get out front as fast as you can. Mississippi State did that against Blair’s Aggies with consecutive 3-pointers by Breanna Richardson and Vivians moving it ahead 18-9 in the opening quarter. The Bulldogs kept pushing the pace, even with Vivians struggling for a second straight game, and were up 34-20 at the break. Vivians made just one of her eight shots. She was just 1-of-5 shooting for five points in the Bulldogs quarterfinal win over LSU on Friday.
NOT FACING COATES
Schaefer thinks that with Alaina Coates sidelined — the Gamecocks’ 6-foot-4 forward who scores 13.4 points a game and leads the SEC with 11.1 rebounds per game — the Gamecocks will try and push his Bulldogs into a faster pace of play. “We like that some,” he said. “But I don’t know if we want to go that fast.”
Texas A&M will await its likely 12th straight NCAA Tournament bid.
Mississippi State faces No. 5 South Carolina in the SEC Tournament championship game Sunday.