SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – On the same day it moved up to No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, Mississippi State survived a scare to capture the Puerto Rico Classic championship.
A late steal by Blair Schaefer and a free throw by Breanna Richardson closed out a hard-fought victory as No. 8 MSU beat Southern Methodist 72-70 in the final game of the three-day event.
MSU (11-1) will enter the Christmas break on a six-game winning streak. When play resumes, MSU will face Southeastern Louisiana at 7 p.m. Monday night at home (SEC Network +) and then South Florida at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 30 in Jacksonville, Florida, as part of the SEC/AAC Challenge (SEC Network).
“It wasn’t pretty,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “They had 13 more makes at the free throw line than we did. We shot 33 percent in the second half. We had a lot of things go wrong that could spell defeat, but we found a way to get a couple of stops late.
“We found a way to win. That’s three wins in three days. SMU played really well. That is a smart basketball team. We need to get back into the gym and practice, but we are glad to be 11-1.”
Victoria Vivians led the Bulldogs with 18 points, including another hot start with a 16-point first quarter. Vivians has scored in double figures in 11 straight games and has led the Bulldogs in scoring eight times.
Ketara Chapel had 13 points and Chinwe Okorie added 10 points. Vivians and Okorie each had a team-high eight rebounds. Morgan William had six assists, while Vivians had four steals.
“My goal has been to be more aggressive,” Chapel said. “Coach showed me the film of some of my games from last season. The biggest thing is having more confidence and believing in my teammates.”
Schaefer said more confidence on the offensive end of the floor has been the key for Chapel during the win streak.
“Ketara had a great tournament,” Schaefer said. “I called her in two weeks ago and showed her some stats from a year ago. She really responded. She has always been a great defender, but right now she plays with some great confidence on offense.”
The Bulldogs started on fire offensively. An early 10-0 run was capped by a layup from Okorie and placed the Bulldogs on top 18-5. The Bulldogs would stretch the lead to 15 at 27-12 on a basket by Vivians and free throw by William.
MSU hit 12 of 23 shots from the field in the opening quarter and led 31-21 at the end of the period.
A layup by Richardson ran the lead back to 39-25 with 6:51 left in the half. SMU later scored the final four points to close within 46-39 at the break.
MSU held a 65-54 lead entering the final period but to was able to hang on for the victory. In the final quarter, the Bulldogs scored seven points and only hit 2 of 8 shots from the field.
A layup by Vivians ran the Bulldogs’ lead to 69-64 with 4:24 left. However, MSU needed some stops on the defensive end to overcome some free throw misses late.
“The main thing is doing things to help the team win,” Vivians said. “If the shots aren’t falling, then someone else will be making them. So you have to do the other things necessary to win.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 29 of 74 shots from the field (39.2 percent), 6 of 15 shots from 3-point range (40.0 percent) and 8 of 22 shots from the foul line (36.4 percent). The Mustangs hit 24 of 59 shots from the field (40.7 percent), 1 of 5 shots from 3-point range (20.0 percent) and 21 of 28 shots from the foul line (75.0).
SMU held a 49-40 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 14 assists and 10 turnovers, while the Mustangs had six assists and 19 turnovers. It was the eighth time this season the Bulldogs had more assists than turnovers.
SMU (5-6) received 21 points from McKenzie Adams and 14 points from Gabrielle Wilkins.
(From MSU Media Relations)