Starkville Daily News

Sunday night brings good news for MSU with 12th all-time bid


Mississipp­i State players Asianae Johnson, Kourtney Weber, Ramani Parker and Anastasia Hayes huddle during an earlier game this season. The Bulldogs will play Illinois on Wednesday in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Will Porada, MSU Athletics, for Starkville Daily News)

For the first time since 2019, Mississipp­i State women's basketball is in the “Big Dance.”

Sunday night brought good news for the Bulldog basketball teams as the men were selected to the tournament for the first time since 2018 and about two hours later, the women would follow. State was selected as a No. 11 seed playing Illinois in a play in game with the winner playing No. 6 seeded Creighton in the South Bend, Ind., Regional hosted by Notre Dame. It's the 12th NCAA Tournament appearance in school history for the Bulldogs.

“I'm so excited for our young women,” MSU women's head coach Sam Purcell said. “I was here a year ago and we were talking about where the program was and where we wanted to go and we're excited to get back in the NCAA Tournament in year one. We brought back some returners and some great people and looked in the room and said, ‘why not us?'”

Though the Bulldogs missed the last two tournament­s and had the 2020 tourney canceled, making the Big Dance has become an expectatio­n after years of wandering in the wilderness. Coach Sharon Fanningoti­s

brought MSU to the promised land for the first time back in 1999 and sent the Bulldogs to six NCAA Tournament­s, including back-to-back in 1999-2000, 2002-03 and 2009-10. The team made its first Sweet 16 appearance in her final tournament in 2010 after knocking off Ohio State on its home court.

Coach Vic Schaefer took that broken glass ceiling and ran with it. He got MSU into the NCAA Tournament in his third year on the job. By 2016, the team was hosting the first two rounds of the tournament. State hosted the first two rounds four-straight years and Schaefer got the Bulldogs to a school-record five-straight NCAA Tournament­s.

Schaefer also sent MSU to four-straight Sweet 16s and Elite Eights as well as back-to-back Final Four Appearance­s in 2017 and 2018 in which the Bulldogs fell a win short of winning it all.

As MSU'S 10th head coach in school history, Purcell gets to become the third coach to get the team inside the field of 64. Purcell broke the school record for wins by a first-year coach as he sits at 20-10 this year with a 9-7 Southeaste­rn Conference mark getting the Bulldogs back on track after a couple of tumultuous

team ALL-SEC center in senior Jessika Carter, who had 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a game. Junior years after Schaefer's exit Jerkaila Jordan has 11.9 for Texas. points a game this year with

a team-high 45 3-pointers. Purcell's team won five of

Louisville transfer Ahlana the last seven SEC games to

Smith has hit 40 3-pointers close the regular season before herself and leads the team falling 79-72 in a tough with 43% makes from long showing against Texas A&M range while making 81% of in the SEC Tournament. A her free throws and averaging week and a half off should 9.7 points a game. have the team rested but also Debreasha Powe was selected refocused for the game that to the All-freshman is ahead this week. team after starting in 29 of

State comes into the the 30 games and averaging tournament with a second-* 8.5 points a game with five rebounds and hitting 39 3-pointers. Anastasia Hayes is one of the leaders in the conference as a passer averaging 4.6 assists a game to go along with her eight points and 3.1 rebounds.

The play-in game for the Bulldogs against Illinois is set for Wednesday in South Bend at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.

“We've got dogs we've got to put up, we've got bags (to pack),” Purcell said of getting ready to play. “We're going to find a way. We'll put a scout together that will give us a chance to win on Wednesday night.”


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