SOUTH BEND, Ind. – It’s not easy to reach the NCAA Tournament, let alone win a game in March Madness.
Mississippi State did just that in dominant fashion on Wednesday night, taking down Illinois by a score of 70-56 to advance in this year’s postseason tournament. The Bulldogs put together an impressive run in the second half to pull away easily, advancing to the Round of 64 and giving themselves a chance to continue achieving their goals. It was a rewarding night for head coach Sam Purcell, who shared his excitement following the contest.
“It was just a beautiful performance from my young women that they just didn’t want to lose,” Purcell said. “It was awesome to see.”
Most teams and their fans focus on the end product: a shot at a Final Four appearance and some shiny new hardware for the eventual national champions. MSU wants those things, but the Bulldogs are taking it slow and steady.
“They’re determined for big things and big goals, and our mindset right now is one game at a time,” Purcell said.
The Bulldogs have pushed themselves over the last few weeks, and that was evident by their success across the court. Graduate student Anastasia Hayes, who scored 11 points and dished out five assists against the Fighting Illini, explained that the team prepared more than ever after hearing its name called on Selection Sunday.
“When we [saw] our name on TV, we went back and we worked really, really hard,” Hayes said. “That’s all we did the past two weeks: worked hard, worked on our execution and just worked on just having fun.”
The victory brought plenty of excitement and joy on its own, but it meant a bit extra to Purcell. He picked up his first-ever NCAA Tournament victory as a head coach and further cemented himself as the winningest first-year head coach in program history. Ultimately, Purcell gave all of the credit to his initial group of Bulldogs.
“I’m blessed with a group who believes in me,” Purcell said. “They trusted me. They’ve got my back. And then you’ll see in the locker room videos, they also dance with me. I love it.”
Purcell also added that fellow Southeastern Conference coaches were rallying behind him and his team, especially since they were competing in the opening game of March Madness. A simple text thread from some rivals on the court ultimately spoke wonders about how well-loved the…
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