Bulldogs’ historic season comes to an end

Duke's Rebecca Greenwell controls the ball as Mississippi State's Dominique Dillingham (00) defends during the first half.  (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Duke’s Rebecca Greenwell controls the ball as Mississippi State’s Dominique Dillingham (00) defends during the first half. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

DURHAM, N.C. –Mississippi State saw its historic women’s basketball season come to an end Sunday afternoon.

A 19-2 run midway through the second half proved too much to overcome as No. 12 MSU dropped a 64-56 decision to No. 16 Duke in a second-round NCAA Tournament contest of the Spokane Regional played at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The fourth-seeded Blue Devils return to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons. The fifth-seeded Bulldogs bow out of their seventh NCAA Tournament after advancing to the second round for the sixth-straight time.

MSU completes the season 27-7 overall and 11-5 in the SEC, both program records for victories. The Bulldogs played before a school-record 67,598 at Humphrey Coliseum this season, while compiling a program-best 17-1 mark. MSU also recorded the largest crowd to ever watch a college women’s basketball game in the state of Mississippi with 7,238 for the regular-season finale against Ole Miss.

“I am proud of my team and proud of the fight in my kids,” MSU’s Vic Schaefer, the 2015 SEC Coach of the Year, said. “I am proud to be at Mississippi State University and to see us represent on the national stage today against a great basketball program in Duke University.

“I am proud of these kids. We have had a long, hard journey. We went to Europe (during the summer) and that played a large role in our success. You have no idea the price these young people pay from practice to no holidays to no Christmas to no spring break to no fall break. To see them go out there and lay it all on the line today causes a great sense of pride in this team.

“I am proud of each and everyone of them. It has been a great journey for me as a coach. They have made me a better coach. I am proud to be their head coach. If you are a Bulldog and watched the game today, there is no doubt of the sense of pride you have in the program and these young ladies.”

Victoria Vivians, a second team All-SEC selection and this season’s Gillom Award winner for best player in the state, capped her remarkable freshman season with a team-high 15 points. Kendra Grant added 12 points in her final game wearing the Maroon and White. SEC All-Freshman Team selection Morgan William added 11 points.

MSU struggled offensively in the initial stages of the game. A Dominique Dillingham 3-pointer was the lone highlight as the Bulldogs trailed 10-3 seven minutes into the contest. Dillingham then hit another 3-pointer and her teammates started chipping in.

The Bulldogs’ first four made field goals were from 3-point range as Grant hit a pair and MSU grabbed a 12-11 lead. The lead went back and forth before another trey by the senior from Richland, ran the Bulldogs’ advantage to 18-13.

Duke pulled even twice before grabbing a 24-21 lead.

MSU scored the final seven points of the half, including a deep trey by Vivians as the half expired, to grab a 28-24 lead at the intermission.

“Duke is a great team,” Grant said. “The biggest thing is they are long. That made it difficult for us to penetrate and kick.”

In the first half, MSU hit seven 3-pointers – one better than its average per game – and also forced 14 turnovers.

In the second half, MSU only hit 3 of 14 3-point attempts, while Duke used its superior size advantage to move the ball inside and cause foul trouble. The Blue Devils only committed three second-half turnovers.

Still, the Bulldogs used the momentum from the half-ending shot to extend the lead to 37-31 on a 3-pointer by Vivians and a putback by Martha Alwal.

Duke came right back and took the lead on a layup by Rebecca Greenwell at 38-37 with 12:25 left. Grant answered on the other end with a basket for the last MSU lead at 39-38.

From there, Duke scored the next 12 points to put the game away. The Blue Devils held the Bulldogs to one field goal over a stretch of slightly better than eight minutes.

MSU continued to battle despite falling down by 15 points at 57-42 with 5:22 left.

Two free throws by William brought the Maroon and White to within 58-52 with 1:21 left. However, Vivians picked up her fifth foul and the Blue Devils were able to hit enough free throws to close out the victory on their home court.

“Sometimes, it is hard for us to put 40 minutes together,” Dillingham said. “The effort is there. It’s just the offense. Sometimes, we have dry spells where we just can’t score. If we put 40 minutes together, we will be fine. The future is very bright for us. We just have to go back and work hard during the off-season and get better at the things that we need to work on.”

For the contest, MSU hit 18 of 59 shots from the field (30.5 percent), 10 of 31 shots from 3-point range (32.3 percent) and 10 of 13 shots from the free throw line (76.9 percent). Duke hit 24 of 46 shots from the field (52.2 percent), 4 of 11 shots from 3-point range (36.4 percent) and 12 of 27 shots from the free throw line (44.4 percent).

Duke held a 42-31 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 11 assists and 11 turnovers, while the Blue Devils had 16 assists and 17 turnovers.

Dillingham added a team-high 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, while Alwal had a game-high four blocks in a contest that pitted two of the nation’s top shot blockers.

Azura Stevens led Duke with 22 points, while Greenwell added 17 points, Elizabeth Williams added 12 points and Ka’lia Johnson added 10 points.

“(The transformation) feels amazing,” Grant said. “When coach Schaefer and his staff came in, we had to get used to them and they had to get used to us. To see where we came from, attendance wise and how we played, to see the transformation has really been amazing.”

The MSU senior class of Grant, Alwal, Savannah Carter and Jerica James completes its career with 76 victories, a quarterfinal berth in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.

(From MSU Media Relations)

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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