Several times Thursday against South Carolina, Mississippi State senior center Teaira McCowan collected an offensive rebound off a teammate’s miss, went up for her own shot, missed, collected the offensive rebound yet again and then scored.
The 6-foot-7 star simply imposed her will in the paint for MSU, and USC had little to no answer for her. The Bulldogs collected the win, 89-74, and McCowan had 24 rebounds, as many as the Gamecocks had as a team.
In fact, only a flurry of garbage-time offensive rebounds in the final minute saved Carolina from being single-handedly out-rebounded by McCowan. USC’s leading rebounder, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper had five total boards, fewer than half of McCowan’s 12 offensive rebounds.
So, all that being said, McCowan, who also scored 20 points, was the reason South Carolina lost, right?
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That’s not quite how Dawn Staley saw it.
When she looked at the scoresheet after the game, what stood out to Staley were senior guard Jordan Danberry’s 18 points, senior guard Jazzmun Holmes’ 11 points and sophomore guard Bre’Amber Scott’s 11 points.
“Big T’s gonna be Big T,” Staley said, referring to McCowan by her nickname. “It’s Danberry’s contributions, it’s Holmes’ contributions that hurt us. Even Scott getting some direct line drives to the basket. We can take a 20-24 night from Teaira, it’s all the other guys can’t get above their averages.”
All told, Mississippi State’s guard trio out-scored their season averages by a combined 12 points — essentially the margin of victory before South Carolina began fouling late.
Staley’s view on the matter makes sense given the All-American she had on her team last year: A’ja Wilson. Opposing coaches repeatedly said in 2017-2018 that they knew Wilson was always going to collect impressive statistical numbers. The key was containment.
Similarly, Staley said Thursday, she knew McCowan was going to get hers, no matter what. The challenge was to hold the rest of the Bulldogs in check, and in that, the Gamecocks fell short.
Particularly, Staley said her team failed to stop MSU’s guards from driving downhill straight into the lane for easy layups.
“We had to have protection on our helpside and our weakside, and we didn’t do too good on that part,” junior guard Tyasha Harris said.
Before the game, Staley said the contest would come down to “broken plays (and) rebounding.” South Carolina wound up losing the rebounding battle by the program’s biggest margin since 2007, but Staley said her players put in the maximum effort against McCowan.
“I thought we did the best we could. Obviously we gotta figure something out before they get back to us in March,” Staley said.
Staley also pushed back against the idea that she would be happy to see McCowan graduate and leave college — facing and scheming for a player of that caliber comes with playing top-level competition.
“She’s a huge challenge. I don’t want to see her go. She’s good for the game, she’s good for our league,” Staley said.
And ultimately, Staley expressed optimism that Thursday’s defeat would pay dividends for the Gamecocks down the road.
“This road loss helps us, even though we lost. ... It’s only going to strength our ability when it’s time for NCAAs, hopefully we can utilize this familiar environment to have some success,” Staley said.