STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State’s Blair Schaefer was a role player one year ago, sometimes only getting on the floor for a handful of minutes depending on the matchup.
These days, the 5-foot-7 senior is starting. And on nights like Thursday she’s pretty much indispensable.
Schaefer made five 3-pointers, Teaira McCowan led all scorers with 23 points and No. 2 Mississippi State beat Florida 90-53 for its school-record 21st straight victory to start the season.
“It’s just so much fun when you have nights like this when your team finds you,” Schaefer said. “It’s basically up to the defense on who to guard, so every night, it can be someone different.”
McCowan shot 9 of 13 from the field and added eight rebounds and two blocks. Victoria Vivians scored 17 points. The Bulldogs scored 48 points in the paint.
Mississippi State (21-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) shot 54 percent from the field, including 67 percent in the second half. Schaefer finished with 15 points, making 5 of 8 shots from 3-point range.
Florida (10-11, 2-6) briefly made things interesting in the second quarter, cutting a 10-point deficit to 22-20 thanks to a 10-2 run.
But the Bulldogs responded with the next 13 points — seven from Vivians and six from Schaefer — to create some separation and take a 35-23 lead into halftime.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer — Blair’s dad — said his daughter’s ability to consistently knock down 3-pointers has helped the offense in two big ways. Sometimes, her job is to occupy a defender and create space for the team’s stars like McCowan and Victoria Vivians.
Other nights, she pours in the points when the defense doesn’t rotate fast enough.
“You just tell her to stand over their on the wing and she opens up the floor for everyone else because they have to go guard her,” Vic Schaefer said. “She’s shooting the ball at a really high level.”
The Gators could never close the gap in the second half. Mississippi State pushed out to a 66-37 lead by the end of the third quarter and cruised to its 21st straight victory.
“I just want to compliment my team,” Vic Schaefer said. “It’s extremely hard to do what they’re doing.”
Florida was led Funda Nakkasoglu, who scored 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting. The Gators were hurt by 23 turnovers.
Florida: The Gators came into the game with some confidence after winning back-to-back league games against Arkansas and Ole Miss. They had some good moments against the Bulldogs — especially in the first half — but are still facing a talent deficit in coach Cameron Newbauer’s first season.
“I’m very proud of the effort we put forward tonight,” Newbauer said. “We got better tonight as a group, as a team. I’m proud that we outrebounded them and have 15 offensive rebounds.”
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs looked a little sluggish early, which wasn’t surprising since they were coming off an impressive 71-52 win over then-No. 6 Tennessee. Mississippi State recovered thanks to a balanced effort from Schaefer, Vivians and McCowan.
Florida hosts No. 21 Georgia on Sunday.
Mississippi State travels to play at Ole Miss on Sunday.