Mississippi State wins its way back into the Elite Eight

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Teaira McCowan had 24 points and 15 rebounds, Victoria Vivians added 14 points and top-seeded Mississippi State routed North Carolina State 71-57 on Friday night to reach the Elite Eight of the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Morgan William added 13 points and Roshunda Johnson, who lost her grandfather earlier in the week, added 12 as the Bulldogs (35-1) also broke their school record for wins in a season.

They’ll have a chance to add to it Sunday, when they face second-seeded UCLA or No. 3 seed Texas for a spot in the Bulldogs’ second consecutive Final Four.

Kiara Leslie had 27 points to pace the No. 4 seed Wolfpack (26-9), who led early in the second quarter before coming undone. Foul trouble set in, Mississippi State clamped down defensively and North Carolina State coach Wes Moore was hit with a technical foul as the Bulldogs pulled away.

The Wolfpack also had no answer for McCowan, whose size presented all kinds of problems. The only junior in a senior-laden starting lineup, she finished 11 of 11 from the field and made both of her foul shots on a night that would have been perfect except for a trio of turnovers.

The Bulldogs, who lost to South Carolina in last year’s title game, looked like they would cruise to the doorstep of another Final Four when they roared to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter.

North Carolina State leaned on its defense, and one of the best rebounding margins in the nation, to claw back. Leslie’s 3 early in the second quarter gave the Wolfpack a 20-19 advantage.

Mississippi State responded with another run, fueled almost entirely by its 6-foot-7 star. McCowan easily grabbed rebounds over the smaller Wolfpack, scored a series of layups and wound up with 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the first half, as the Bulldogs took a 36-41 lead into the break.

Mississippi State still led 49-37 midway through the third quarter when the Wolfpack’s Akela Maize, who had tangled with McCowan all game, picked up her fourth foul.

Moore came unglued and was slapped a technical foul, then continued his diatribe as the officials mostly ignored him. William made two foul shots and Johnson a layup for the four-point trip down loor, and the Bulldogs eventually pushed their lead to 20 points.

They rolled the rest of the way to the Elite Eight.