STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi State star Victoria Vivians — inexplicably — was wide open in the corner during the second quarter, caught a pass and drained a 3-pointer.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair frowned, took off his coat and tossed it toward the bench in disgust. His Aggies were giving the Bulldogs a tough game in front of a hostile crowd, but mistakes like that meant there would be no road upset.
Vivians scored 18 points, Teaira McCowan and Morgan William both added 10 and No. 4 Mississippi State survived a hard-fought game to beat Texas A&M 71-61 on Sunday.
“That was two really good teams and I knew it was going to be like that,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said.
Schaefer was an assistant coach under Blair when Texas A&M won a national title in 2011. He took the Mississippi State job in 2012. The two longtime friends and colleagues are so familiar with each other that both said strategy decisions were difficult and the mutual knowledge probably cancelled each other out.
In the end, Mississippi State won because it simply had better players. The Bulldogs were dominant at times in the post and the 6-foot-7 McCowan was particularly efficient, making 4 of 5 shots from the field and grabbing six rebounds in 15 minutes.
“That was a Top 25 team playing a Top 5 team,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “But we acted like we belong.”
Mississippi State (21-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) bounced back from its lone loss of the season against No. 5 South Carolina on Monday.
The Aggies made things interesting in the fourth quarter, pulling to 55-50 with 6:31 remaining, but the Bulldogs responded with four straight points and Texas A&M never made another serious run.
Mississippi State backup guard Roshunda Johnson scored seven crucial points in the fourth quarter when Vivians was on the bench to push back against the final Texas A&M rally.
“I’m just always trying to be prepared when my number is called and executing the plays that coach calls out,” Johnson said.
Texas A&M (15-6, 5-3) led 20-15 in the first quarter after hitting 7 of 11 shots, including all three of its 3-point attempts. Mississippi State recovered in a hurry in the second quarter, pushing ahead 41-29 by halftime.
Curtyce Knox led the Aggies with 20 points, and Danni Williams added 15. Both played all 40 minutes. Blair said that while he likes both players, it’s not an optimal situation.
“We are squeezing blood out of turnips right now because we don’t have a lot of depth,” Blair said.
Texas A&M: The Aggies started out on a torrid offensive pace, but it quickly proved unsustainable. Texas A&M is certainly one of the better teams in the SEC, but probably a notch below the league’s top two powers South Carolina and Mississippi State.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs recovered from their road loss to South Carolina with a solid victory. Mississippi State showed it can have balanced scoring, with six players scoring at least nine points. Johnson hit a few big shots in the fourth quarter to help the Bulldogs pull away for good.
Mississippi State announced a crowd of 7,780 at Humphrey Coliseum. That’s the third biggest crowd for a women’s basketball game in school history.
Texas A&M returns home to face Florida on Thursday. It starts a three-game homestand for the Aggies.
Mississippi State goes on the road to face Auburn on Thursday.
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