Because without even a media press release sent out to alert beforehand, the TV announcers had only seconds before game time to note for the audience that freshman Chennedy Carter and senior Khaalia Hillsman would not be starting the game today for a “violation of team rules.”
Announcers were quick to say that the players had “been late to an important team event,” just so the audience would know it was “different” than the violations of team rules that members of other Aggie teams have committed, also the most selfish acts of irresponsibility on their parts.
No matter the circumstances, it’s reasonable to say that this irresponsible behavior cost the Aggies the game today. How selfish is that? Immeasurably. In the first few minutes of the game, without the whirling dervish centerpiece around which the Aggie offense must revolve, and the absence of the post player to prevent opponents from easy access to drive to the basket, it was no surprise that Mississippi State jumped out to an early 11–0 lead.
If there was ever a slim chance of staying close in the game, it was already a major fail with this opening move. You have to commend Aggie Head Coach Gary Blair for enforcing team rules, because to do so meant accepting the predictable loss. You can’t begin a championship caliber game with two “star” players on the bench the first three minutes and expect the other team members to be able to run plays around which they were not the original focus. It was a confusion-laden offense, reminiscent of clown cars driving in every direction at Ringling Brothers Circus again.
No, it didn’t have to be this way. All good things considered, with preparation and mental toughness, it would have been just as easy to walk in there, having prepared, and desiring with passion and determination to be the team that turned the Lady Bulldogs into 27-1. Imagine what a victory like that would have done for the No. 17 Aggie women? Tomorrow, that No. 17 will disappear as quickly as the two hours of today’s game.
Four years ago, Mississippi State’s team didn’t execute the plays the way they did today; they didn’t have the physicality that they did today. They didn’t seem like a powerhouse on the court, but off the court, they were a team united by example, by force, and by fierce insistence of the man whose nickname here was the “Secretary of Defense.” On the court, that gentleman is far from warm and fuzzy.
The Lady Bulldogs began building this year’s team four years ago, and four of the five starters are seniors. They couldn’t recruit nationally—they drew from Mississippi, an even more important accomplishment. So, 2018 is their year. Next year, there will be an all-new group of players on their court. And Coach Schaefer’s lawn will be a little less busy, or maybe it won’t be.
But who and what has taken over the Aggie court, and who has changed this team from a group of nationally recruited players to the team on the court today? Last year Danni Williams was the team hero, more so than any other player, and remained humble and felt the respect and regard of her team. This year, Williams has had moments, or games, filled with self-doubt. Or, she’s been double-teamed out of key position, and is trying to fight her way out of that slump, and there’s no pressure like not performing this year as you did last year.
What does it say about Aggie post play when the smallest Lady Bulldog on the court, Morgan William, whose listed 5’5” height is about 5 inches too generous, was able to drive right to the basket, undaunted?
Another good question is why is Anriel Howard always in double-doubles for her shooting and her rebounding? Simple. Anriel fights for that rebound every single time there’s a shot. She winds up getting her own misses and going for second-chance shots, often getting them.
Jasmine Lumpkin’s shooting time has increased the last few games, mostly because she’s worked herself into an open spot on the court and has the guts to shoot, no matter the outcome. She has no reason to be anything but proud of how she played today. Her defensive abilities are exceptional. But she can't do it all by herself out there, though she fights every play of the game. It doesn’t matter about her missed shots—at least she took shots.
If you’re looking for one potential source of the biggest problem in todays’ loss, assuming that the Aggies did well the second quarter and really kept Mississippi State contained well, the stat sheet has the answer. Courtesy of Asst. SID, David Waxman, here’s how today’s game stacked up.
Five Mississippi State players scored in double figures, and Victoria Vivians had 26 on the day, with 2 assists. Vivians also had 12 rebounds and teammate Teaira McCowan had 11 rebounds. The Lady Bulldogs had 10 of 21 three-point shots fall their way, compared to 1 of 12 by the Aggies, the 1 three-pointer going to Chennedy Carter.
Roshunda Johnson scored 16, point guard Morgan William scored 12, Blair Schaefer had 11, and Teaira McCowan had 11 points…a very nice spread. Only five Lady Bulldog players scored. Morgan William, by the way, led the team with 7 assists, and guess how many assists Aggie players had for the game: 3. Just 3 assists. Anriel had one, Jasmine had 1 and Chennedy Carter had 1. There’s your loss. No one was getting the ball to the open person.
To be fair Mississippi State played a swarming defense, yet not every Aggie was covered all the time. Apparently, every time Chennedy Carter had the ball, she shot it. She made 12 of 29 field goals, 1 of 8 three-point attempts, and 6 of 7 free throws. She held the ball 37 times compared to her teammates. The most shots attempted by any other Aggie were 7 by Howard (making 3), 7 by Williams (making 0), 7 by Hillsman (making 2), and 3 by Lumpkin (making 0).
Right as the game began, the announcers spoke glowingly again of the value of having Chennedy Carter in the lineup for the Aggies (noting how they were scoreless without her), and how she’s surely freshman of the year, having shot 46 points in one game and 36 (I think) in another.
That’s too much pressure on one child, and apparently she’s put it on herself to carry this team when she thinks they can’t perform. And yet, shooting 12 of 29 field goals and 1 of 8 three-pointers is hardly freshman of the year material, nor is it anything like shooting lights out. It’s just volume, volume, volume.
Anriel Howard and Jasmine Lumpkin continued to be the MVPs of Aggie team play, as Anriel was perfect on free throws, making 8 of 8. Jasmine made 3 of 4. This duo also led in rebounds (Anriel had 10, Jasmine had 7). One bright new spot is that Caylinne Martin was thrust into starting role and got 2 points and 5 rebounds in 10 minutes of play, compared to 4 points and 8 rebounds in 30 minutes of play by Hillsman. Martin is finding herself more at home when in the game. Still plenty of teaching time ahead.
Carter can be proud, individually, that she is now third place on Texas A&M’s single-season point list, with 605 points this season; her 31 points “tie for the third-most for a Texas A&M freshman in a single game,” and today her fifth 30+ point game of the season. But her team lost, so…so what?
After this game, the team will have a chance to talk to one another and determine how they will play Arkansas, Missouri, and in the SEC Tournament. Change has to begin from the bottom up. The coaches can’t fix this. They’ve done everything they can. They’ve taught the players, supervised them, coached them, encouraged them and even coddled some of them. But their job ended with the end of this game.
Only the players can effect positive change, which begins in their attitudes, their commitment to this team, and their passion for winning. No ball will go unrebounded. No shot will not be followed up, and no opposing team will slip past them every single play in the future--if they choose to win.
Today's attendance was 9933 fans of Mississippi State--that's another record to match as well.
Meanwhile, quoting Vic Schaefer, God bless and Go Dawgs, to Aggie Coach Vic Schaefer, Associate Head Coach Johnnie Harris, Director of Operations, Maryann Baker, and Director of Scouting/Video Coordinator, Skylar Collins, and congratulations to Teaira McCowan, Blair Schaefer, Morgan William, Roshunda Johnson, Victoria Vivians, Jazzmun Holmes, Jordan Danberry, Zion Campbell and Chloe Bibby on being the SEC Champions.
Either this team will return as the fightin’ Texas Aggies that everyone sings the song about, or they won't. One thing is sure: they'll either be united or untied. By Thursday the fans should know for certain. Aggie fans are hoping for the best.