For the second straight season, Mississippi State has fallen just short in the NCAA title game, but this year’s loss has brought a new kind of heartbreak for MSU.
Tied at 58-58 with :03 remaining, MSU thought they had Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale defended, but a perfect shot from the corner at the buzzer downed the Bulldogs and delivered ND their second national title in school history.
NOTRE DAME… WOW pic.twitter.com/Vs3uR9a9nx
— NCAA Women’s BKB (@ncaawbb) April 2, 2018
With two minutes left in the game, MSU had all of the momentum on their side after a Roshunda Johnson three-pointer gave them a 5-point lead. ND would close the gap and tie the game, but the Bulldogs seemingly had the perfect play drawn up to get back in the driver’s seat.
Teaira McCowan had been unstoppable in the post all tournament long, and with an open layup, she could’ve given MSU a 60-58 lead with :30 left. Instead, the ball bounced off of the front of the rim, and the score remained tied. The two teams traded turnovers, and McCowan fouled out of the game before the final sequence.
At the half, it appeared that MSU was on their way to avenging last year’s loss in the title game, as they outscored ND 13-3 in the second quarter and took a 13-point lead into the locker room. The Fighting Irish stayed true to their name and fought back in the third quarter when they played their way to a tie as the 4thquarter began, and the back-and-forth final period began.
The fourth quarter featured lead changes, ties, and clutch shots, but not enough of them fell MSU’s way and they finish just short of hoisting the trophy. Ogunbowale’s buzzer-beater capped ND’s 15-point comeback, which is the largest in title game history, according to ESPN. Head coach Vic Schaefer puts the blame on himself for his team’s collapse in the final minutes.
“This is the toughest, most resilient team I have ever seen,” Schaefer said. “Their competitive spirit is second to none. Congratulations to Notre Dame, but I am awfully proud of my group. When you are up five with 1:40 to go in the game, it’s my job to get them home and I didn’t get them home. I will wear that maybe for the rest of my career.”
Before fouling out, McCowan was a difficult matchup for ND and had 18 points with 17 rebounds. Victoria Vivians led the way in scoring with 21 points, but only scored four points in the 4thquarter. While Johnson’s 3-pointer gave MSU a late lead, that was her only basket of the game. The two remaining starters, Blair Schaefer and Morgan William, scored just 6 points each. If the Bulldogs could’ve gotten a bit more from players other than McCowan and Vivians, this could’ve been a different story.
After last year’s title game loss, Schaefer and his team may have thought there was no tougher feeling, but unfortunately for MSU, this loss will stick with them for some time.