STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The Morgan William of March has arrived. That makes Mississippi State a pretty tough basketball team during the season’s most important stretch.
William scored 17 points — hitting several clutch shots and playing lockdown perimeter defense — to help lead top-seed Mississippi State over Oklahoma State 71-56 in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday night.
“I thought Morgan dictated the whole game,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “She controlled the pace. She ran when we wanted to run and she kept them from running.”
Victoria Vivians led the Bulldogs with 23 points and Teaira McCowan had a big game with 21 points and 18 rebounds. Those two things were expected — but William’s emergence as an offensive threat helped Mississippi State separate from the Cowgirls during an intense game.
“I was just trying to be another threat on the court,” William said. “I was playing hard on the defensive end and I felt like I could reward myself a little by shooting.”
The Bulldogs advanced to the Sweet 16 for a third-straight season.
William was the darling of last year’s NCAA Tournament, hitting the game-winning jumper at the buzzer to beat mighty UConn in the Final Four. She also scored 41 points in the Elite Eight against Baylor.
The 5-foot-5 senior guard’s numbers have been a little down throughout most of this season, though that’s more because of the emergence of other players than anything she’s doing wrong. She’s averaging less than eight points per game.
But on Monday night, William was one of the most important people on the court, playing with boundless energy on both ends.
“She’s the energizer,” Vivians said. “If she’s out there giving us energy then we feed off them and want to give that energy back. We play behind them. I feel her coming out amped like that just gave us the mojo to do something good.”
Mississippi State had a 41-31 rebounding advantage. McCowan scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half and shot 8 of 12 from the field.
Oklahoma State (21-11) was hurt when starting guard Loryn Goodwin picked up her fourth foul with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter. She stayed in the game, but her defensive presence was limited and that was around the time that Mississippi State went on a 10-2 lead to open up a 51-43 advantage.
William made a jumper a few seconds before the third-quarter buzzer to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead in the game at 55-45 and they slowly pulled away.
Oklahoma State, the No. 9 seed, was led by Kaylee Jensen’s 18 points. Goodwin added 14 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
“We got beat by a really good basketball team,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “We got worn down a little bit. They hurt us on the glass.”
Oklahoma State pushed to an early 20-12 lead late in the first quarter, but Mississippi State rallied and the rest of the first half was extremely close. The Bulldogs took a 35-34 advantage into halftime.
Oklahoma State: The Cowgirls were in the game for most of three quarters, but couldn’t match the Bulldogs down the stretch. Jensen and Goodwin were very good in their final college games, but it wasn’t enough.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs won thanks to a gritty defensive effort in the second half and huge games from Vivians, McCowan and William.
Mississippi State advances to face N.C. State in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City.
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