COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer walked away from the team's locker room with one arm around the shoulder of his weeping daughter Blair and the other arm draped over guard Morgan William. Both players were inconsolable after losing the national championship to Notre Dame on a desperation 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left.
The Bulldogs got oh so close again but couldn't finish it off. On their second straight trip to the national title game, they built a big lead Sunday night, but allowed the Irish to come roaring back in the second half. Arike Ogunbowale, who beat UConn with a last-second shot in overtime on Friday night, provided the heroics again for Notre Dame in the 61-58 victory.
Blair Schaefer, William and fellow seniors Roshunda Johnson and Victoria Vivians all cried softly as they tried to answer questions from reporters after the game. They'll leave Starkville without a national championship after winning dramatic semifinal games in both seasons. Last year they ended UConn's 111-game winning streak in the semi before falling to South Carolina in the title game.
Vic Schaefer voice broke with emotion when he talked about his team, which finished 37-2.
"This is the toughest, most resilient team I've ever seen," he said. "Their competitive fire and competitive spirit is second to none."
The Bulldogs took advantage of a litany of Notre Dame turnovers to take a 30-17 lead at the half. It looked like 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan and Vivians, the Bulldogs first-team All-American, were on her way to another big night. They led by as many 15 points in the third quarter before the Irish, who looked anemic in the first half, started climbing back into it.
To @_MorganWilliam2:— MSU W. Basketball (@HailStateWBK) April 2, 2018
Our quiet leader. You were so much bigger than your position. You shocked the world and handled it with grace, and you will always be remembered for your time as a Bulldog. We'll come visit that sports facility you open with your brother!#HailState pic.twitter.com/bV6YJzKY1t
"We were right there," Mississippi State guard Jazzmun Holmes said, "and we couldn't finish it up."
Mississippi State still led by five on a Johnson 3-pointer with just under two minutes left. Then Marina Mabrey hit a 3-pointer for Notre Dame, and Jackie Young hit a jumper to tie the score at 58 with 45 seconds left. McCowan missed an easy layup, and the teams traded turnovers as the clock ticked down, setting up another big moment for Ogunbowale.
"We didn't get two stops when we needed to get stops," Blair Schaefer said. "They obviously executed on offense and got two big buckets and the game was tied."
Her father took every bit of the blame.
"You're up five with 1:40 (left), it's my job to get them home, and I didn't get them home," he said. "I'll wear that maybe for the rest of my career."
His daughter, though, wouldn't hear it.
To @VictoriaVivians:— MSU W. Basketball (@HailStateWBK) April 2, 2018
Our Queen. You stayed home and made history. You wrote your name all over our record books and completed an unforgettable career as what we all knew you were: an All-American. We'll be buying our Vivians jerseys in the colors that come next! #HailState pic.twitter.com/GwFmu9GAQH
"He's always been accountable and always takes everything on his shoulders, so I think one time we have to except that we didn't make that one more," she said. "I'm just proud of him for getting us back here and being able to experience this."
Vivians had 21 points for the Bulldogs, and McCowan 18 points and 17 rebounds.
Vic Schaefer may be looking at rebuilding year in Starkville. He loses the core of his team except for McCowan and Holmes, who will be seniors next season.