COLUMBUS, Ohio. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) - For the Mississippi State women’s basketball team, it was simply not meant to be.
The Bulldogs held a 15-point lead early in the second half but could not hang on, falling 61-58 to Notre Dame in the national championship game at Nationwide Arena.
Arike Ogunbowale hit a three-pointer with 0.1 seconds left to lift the Fighting Irish to their first national championship in 17 seasons.
MSU finished as the national runner-up for a second straight season. The MSU senior class finishes with a school-record 126 victories and four NCAA Tournament appearances.
Both Victoria Vivians and Teaira McCowan were named to the All-Final Four team. Vivians averaged 23 points and 6.5 rebounds, while McCowan averaged 19.5 points and 21 rebounds.
“This is the toughest, most resilient team I have ever seen,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “Their competitive spirit is second to none. Congratulations to Notre Dame, but I am awfully proud of my group. When you are up five with 1:40 to go in the game, it’s my job to get them home and I didn’t get them home. I will wear that maybe for the rest of my career.
“These four seniors are so special. They have done so much for me personally and professionally. This is a high-character classy group of seniors. The integrity of this group is something I haven’t seen. We have great kids in that locker room. We have great kids coming in.
“For the seniors, they will always be a special group for the grit, determination and how they embrace the grind of life, as well as the grind of basketball. It hurts. They played their hearts out. Notre Dame made one more play.”
Vivians led the Bulldogs with 21 points in her final collegiate game. McCowan finished with her 29th double-double, scoring 18 points while pulling down 17 rebounds.
Both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter.
After being down 6-0, the Bulldogs recovered for their first lead at 13-12 on a Morgan William layup.
The Bulldogs used an 11-0 run to build a 17-12 lead and led 17-14 after one quarter.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs turned in their best defensive quarter of the season. Notre Dame was held to one field goal over the final 11:10 of the first half.
The Bulldogs scored the final six points of the second quarter for a 30-17 halftime lead.
A 3-pointer by Vivians ran the lead to 40-25 with 6:41 left in the third quarter. From there, Notre Dame used a 16-1 run to end the quarter in a 41-41 tie.
Still, the Bulldogs kept battling, taking a 51-47 lead on a McCowan jumper with 6:50 left and a 58-53 lead on a 3-pointer by Johnson with 1:58 left.
For the contest, MSU hit 22 of 59 shots from the field (37.3 percent), 4 of 16 shots from 3-point range (25.0 percent) and 10 of 17 shots from the foul line (58.8 percent). Notre Dame hit 22 of 52 shots from the field (42.3 percent), 2 of 9 shots from 3-point range (22.2 percent) and 15 of 17 shots from the foul line (88.2 percent).
MSU held a 38-35 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had nine assists and 15 turnovers, while the Fighting Irish had eight assists and 17 turnovers.
Jessica Shepard led Notre Dame with 19 points, while Ogunbowale had 18 points and Marina Mabrey had 10 points. Kathryn Westbeld had a team-high nine rebounds.