Another magical postseason run ended short of the ultimate goal for Mississippi State.
Even though State was the designated home team in Sunday afternoon’s Elite Eight game, most of the 11,534 fans in attendance were clad in Oregon colors, giving the Moda Center the feel of a true road game.
The top-seeded Bulldogs battled through the adverse conditions and entered the fourth quarter tied but ultimately could not keep pace with the sharp-shooting Ducks. No. 2 seed Oregon advanced to its first Final Four with an 88-84 victory.
“Man, I just can’t be prouder of my team today,” said MSU coach Vic Schaefer. “You talk about competitive and tough. I thought my team just fought tooth and nail today in a really hostile environment.”
Oregon (33-4) drained 13 3-pointers and shot 50 percent behind the arc. The Ducks finished the game shooting 54.2 percent from the field and made their final seven shots in the fourth quarter, three of which were 3s.
“I’ve watched a ton of film. I’ve not seen them make that many 3s in a while,” Schaefer said. “They made shots today. You’ve got to take your hat off to them. When you make shots in a big game like that, you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”
Sabrina Ionescu was named the Portland Regional MVP after her 31-point performance against MSU. Ionescu was 12-of-20 from the field and 5-of-8 from behind the arc and also added eight assists and five rebounds.
“She’s a great player,” said MSU guard Jazzmun Holmes. “We did all we could. I mean, she’s good, so hats off to her.”
The Bulldogs fought back to tie the game at 59 by the end of the third quarter but couldn’t match the 71.4 percent that Oregon shot in the final quarter from both the field (10-of-14) and 3-point line (5-of-7).
State saw its season end at 33-3 after shooting 48.4 percent for the game and only committing six turnovers.
“We scored 84 points. If I’d have known that coming into today, I’d have taken it,” Schaefer said. “I think our offense was adequate today. We just didn’t guard.”
Holmes and Teaira McCowan, playing their final games as Bulldogs, both posted double-doubles. McCowan scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while Holmes had 15 points, 13 assists and no turnovers.
McCowan closes her career with 70 double-doubles and Holmes finishes second in school history with 476 assists.
These seniors — Jazzmun Holmes, Anriel Howard, Jordan Danberry and McCowan — played their final game for Schaefer, who just missed his third straight trip to the Final Four.
This time last year, MSU had no idea that Howard would be on the market. There was also no guarantee that Holmes and Danberry would make the jump that they made as first-time starters.
Howard was a true game-changer. The Bulldogs had to work hard to beat out UConn, Florida State and South Carolina, but they got her on board after transferring from Texas A&M as the second-leading rebounder in the Southeastern Conference behind McCowan.
McCowan is the school’s all-time leading rebounder in a season and for her career as well as the NCAA’s best rebounder in postseason history. She also was fourth in career points, just shy of 2,000.
McCowan was the SEC Player of the Year, first-team All-American, two-time conference Defensive Player of the Year and notched 70 career double-doubles. Quite simply, she has a case to be the best that has ever worn maroon and white.
So the book is closed on four more iconic players in Starkville. They had the unenviable task of following four others from last season and found a way to earn a third-straight 30-win season, a second-straight No. 1 seed and came within a win of another Final Four.
McCowan and Holmes leave as the winningest players in school history with 132 victories over four years. More importantly, they and the other seniors left their mark on the community and the program and they’ve set the bar even higher than the group that left.
Even though the Bulldogs lose a ton of experience and talent, I expect Schaefer to have another great team in Starkville next year.
And, yes, it should be a reloading season but the expectations are always the same with Schaefer at the helm.