Florida has already been upset earlier in the day by Albany. And with Mississippi State's game-long struggle against Chattanooga, it wasn't shaping up to be a good start to the NCAA tournament for the SEC. The conference that sent nine teams into March's marquee event was at risk of losing its first two immediately.
Thanks to Mississippi State's physical dominance, that didn't happen and the Bulldogs survived, 60-50.
Mississippi State needed every ounce of the home crowd's support because the Mocs pushed the Bulldogs into the fourth quarter.
How the game was won: Chattanooga showed its veteran, big-game experience for much of the contest. Despite playing on their home floor, the Bulldogs were a little tight early, trailing 16-11 after the first quarter. Ultimately, they were too big and too athletic for the Mocs and had the best player on the floor in Victoria Vivians. That was enough for Mississippi State to prevail in a game in which it made only three 3-pointers and shot just 33.3 percent overall.
Player of the game: As is usual with Mississippi State, Vivians is going to dictate so much of what the offense does. The 6-foot-1 sophomore did not have a great shooting day, going 8-of-23 from the field and just 2-for-9 from 3-point range, but she made key shots and finished with a game-high 19 points.
Turning point: Chattanooga had turned a 29-21 halftime deficit into a two-point game midway through the third quarter thanks to Jasmine Joyner finding her stroke. Then Vivians had her best two-minute stretch of the day. She turned a defensive rebound into a coast-to-coast layup and followed that with consecutive 3-pointers, her only two of the game, to push the score back to 45-38. Chattanooga stayed within range the entire fourth quarter, but never got as close as two again after Vivians' eight-point burst.
X factor: Foul trouble. Chattanooga was in it all game. Joyner sat out a huge chunk of the first half and eventually fouled out. Mocs senior point guard Alicia Payne was also hampered with early fouls and missed major second-quarter time. Chattanooga didn't have enough without its leading scorer and leader in assists on the court for their usual minutes.
Stat of the game: The Bulldogs dominated the boards 44-29. Chattanooga couldn't quite complete the comeback because even after making a key defensive stop, the Mocs couldn't get the ball back off the rim. Chinwe Okorie and Ketara Chapel were especially effective against the smaller Mocs, combing in for 12 offensive rebounds.
What's next: The Bulldogs will host No. 4 seed Michigan State on Sunday. The Spartans, as the higher seed, would have been hosting this subregional and this game in East Lansing, but the Breslin Center was being used this weekend, pushing the games to Starkville instead.