Clemson loses to Mississippi State in the NCAA’s second round
Clemson’s magical season in women’s basketball ended Sunday night in Starkville, Miss.
Led by Anriel Howard and Teaira McCowan, top seed Mississippi State in the Portland Regional beat No. 9 Clemson, 85-61, at the Humphrey Coliseum in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Howard finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, while McCowan, the SEC Player of the Year, added a game-high 30 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs. The Tigers were again led by guards Simone Westbrook and Dani Edwards, both seniors.
They both scored 14 points, while Kobi Thornton added 12 more. Thornton also had eight rebounds.
With the loss, Clemson finished the season with a 20-13 record, the program’s best season in 18 years.
In her first season as head coach, Amanda Butler coached the Tigers to nine ACC wins, eight victories over last year’s mark. That is the largest turnaround in wins by a first-year head coach in ACC history and earned her ACC Coach of Year honors.
She is the first Clemson women’s basketball coach to receive the honor since Jim Davis in 1994.
The Tigers were originally picked to finish 15th and 14th in the ACC by the Blue Ribbon Panel and Coaches, respectively. Finishing the regular season in seventh place, the Tigers tied the 2014-’15 Pitt team for the highest finish above predicted place in ACC history.
This season has truly been a year of firsts for the Tigers under Butler. Some of those firsts include, the first season with three wins over top 25 teams since 2000-01. First winning season since going 17-12 in 2003-04 and First All-ACC selection (Thornton, Second Team) since 2009-10.
The Tigers also got their first NCAA Tournament win since 2001.
Clemson also had four players—Edwards, Westbrook, Thornton and Aliyah Collier—average double digits in scoring for the first time since the 1998-’99 season.
The Tigers made things interesting in the third period. After trailing by as many as 24 points with 4:51 to go, they cut the Mississippi State lead to 13 points. A big part of that came on an 8-0 run in which they forced three straight Bulldog turnovers and turned them into points.
Following two made free throws by Collier, Chyna Cotton stole the inbound pass, laid the ball up and got a quick foul to complete an old fashioned three-point play. Then after another Bulldogs’ turnover, Edwards splashed her second triple of the quarter to make the score 59-46 with 1:05 to play in the period.
Clemson outscored the Bulldogs 24-21 in the third.
But led by McCowan, Mississippi State (32-2) went on a 7-0 run to gain back control of the game. She started the fourth period by scoring 11 of her team’s first 13 points. McCowan finished the game 14-of-17 from the field.
Clemson missed its last six shots at the end of the first half, while the Bulldogs closed with a 9-0 run to take a 41-22 lead.
After pulling within 10 points with 4:23 to play in the second period, the Tigers twice had an opportunity to cut the deficit under 10 points, but Westbrook’s floater in a fast break opportunity rattled in and out and then Clemson had one of its 12 first half turnovers on the next possession.
The Tigers had four turnovers in the last four minutes of the half.
Mississippi State led 23-10 at the end of the first period, thanks in large part to its defensive pressure. Clemson struggled to take care of the basketball, turning it over eight times.
The Bulldogs used an 8-0 in the first period to build its lead as Howard and Jordan Danberry got their offense going.
Howard finished the first half with 13 points, while Danberry had eight. McCowan added 12 points.
Clemson tried to keep things close behind the play of their big-three-Edwards, Westbrook and Thornton. Westbrook had eight first-half points, while Edwards and Thornton each added six.
The Tigers did not shoot a free throw in the opening half and attempt just one three-pointer.
Mississippi State advances to the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row.
—Photo courtesy Clemson Athletic Communications