- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi State is proud of its home court advantage in the NCAA Tournament and hopes to pack a crowd of 10,000 into Humphrey Coliseum on Sunday.

No matter how many fans are in the seats, DePaul probably won’t be intimidated. The Blue Demons know a few things about sending a hostile crowd home unhappy.

Second-seeded Mississippi State (30-4) hosts DePaul (27-7) on Sunday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. The Bulldogs beat Troy 110-69 on Friday in the first round while the seventh-seeded Blue Demons beat Northern Iowa 88-67.

“They’re comfortable in this environment,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “And honestly, that’s not good for us. I think they’re comfortable being the underdog.”

DePaul has reached the Sweet 16 three times in the past six years. Each time, the Blue Demons won the second round game by defeating their opponent on their home floor - Penn State in 2011, Duke in 2014 and Louisville last year.

Senior guards Brooke Schulte and Jessica January were part of the teams that beat Duke and Louisville.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily a secret - it’s just about being consistent and doing the little things you’ve done over the entire year,” January said. “It’s a fun environment. We’re excited to play in front of a lot of fans, even if they’re not fans for us.”

DePaul coach Doug Bruno said he tries to schedule a few difficult non-conference games each season to prepare his team when an upset opportunity arises in the NCAA Tournament.

“Just because we’ve done it in years past doesn’t mean we’ll do it tomorrow,” Bruno said. “But one thing I think does put players in a position to play in this environment is playing a very difficult non-conference schedule.”

DePaul played non-conference games against several nationally-ranked teams this season, including UConn, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Baylor. The Blue Demons went just 1-3 in those games, but the experience was valuable.

“We just play DePaul ball, go in fearless, have an edge and be ready to play,” Schulte said.

Here are a few other things to watch in Sunday’s second round game:

ROLE PLAYERS: Mississippi State and DePaul both got big contributions from surprising players in their first round wins. The Bulldogs’ Blair Schaefer scored a career-high 21 points while freshman Ameshya Williams added 15 points in just nine minutes on the court. Blue Demons’ guard Tanita Allen came off the bench to score 25 points while Lauren Prochaska scored a season-high 12 points and had six assists.

THE BIG 3-0: Mississippi State won its 30th game of the season on Friday, which is a school record. The Bulldogs have set a program record in wins during three straight seasons - they won 27 two years ago and 28 last year.

LINEUP MYSTERY: Vic Schaefer used a surprise starting lineup for Mississippi State’s first round game against Troy. Usual starters Victoria Vivians, Dominique Dillingham and Chinwe Okorie came off the bench and usual reserves Blair Schaefer, Ketara Chapel and Roshunda Johnson started. Vivians - who leads the team by scoring more than 16 points per game - was effective in 16 minutes off the bench, scoring 13 points.

NEEDING GRANT: One of DePaul’s most important players on Sunday might be 6-foot-3 forward Jacqui Grant. She’s one of the few Blue Demons who has the size to match up against Mississippi State tall tandem of Chinwe Okorie, who stands 6-5, and Teaira McCowan, who is 6-7. Said Grant: “We have to balance being aggressive and being smart. My teammates have my back - I have their back. That is going to be a big thing. It is going to be a challenge, but I think we are up for it.”


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