In sports, an underdog story is something special.
Those teams that go farther than ever expected are easy to root for. They create big moments that live on for years to come and they make games somehow even more fun to watch when they succeed.
Mississippi State has emerged as the latest Cinderella story in the prestigious NCAA Tournament, and the program has embraced everything that has come its way.
The Bulldogs are red-hot and blazing through the early rounds of March Madness. They notched their second win in impressive fashion 81-66 over Creighton on Friday, shooting 49 percent from the field and tied a season-high with 11 three-pointers. They’ve also made history, becoming the only first-four team in tournament history to advance to the Round of 32.
MSU was ready for its moment as a bracket-buster. Graduate student Ahlana Smith, who added 10 points and five assists in Friday’s victory, noted some of the ways that the team has benefitted over the last few weeks.
“We don’t mind being the underdog,” Smith said. “I think it makes us work harder and understand that there is a lot at stake.”
The hard work is showing on the court. Mississippi State has run as smoothly as a well-oiled machine since entering the tournament, with a flowing offense and a stingy defense. Everybody who enters the court has one thing in common: reliability. Smith explained how confident she is in her teammates to make the big plays.
“I’m surrounded by great players, and with our team we have multiple people who can score, multiple people who can do defensive things,” Smith said.
Head coach Sam Purcell agreed with Smith’s comments. The first-year leader has worked hard with his team to prepare for March, and it’s been evident.
“I think you’re starting to see a confident group because now they’re not having to think,” Purcell said. “They know the reads and now they’re just making shots.”
Any team can score and put together a few solid minutes of basketball. But for much of this season and especially the past two games, Mississippi State has been exceptional with the players sharing a close bond on the court. That team comradery has played a part in how well the Bulldogs have performed in the face of adversity.
“We’ve got a great chemistry,” Purcell said. “But most importantly, we believe in each other and we’ve just got a special…
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