Mississippi State

Given a shot to run the show at Mississippi State, Coast product has proven elite

In her senior year at Mississippi State, Jazzmun Holmes has finally been handed the keys to run the show for one of the nation’s best teams.

Holmes played important minutes off the bench in all 39 games for MSU a year ago, filling a significant role as the backup point guard on the way to the Bulldogs’ second consecutive trip to the national title contest.

The Harrison Central product served last year as the No. 2 behind Morgan William, who is now a legend in Starkville thanks to her overtime jumper to end UConn’s 111-game winning streak in the 2017 Final Four.

With William no longer running the point for MSU, the 2018-19 season has become Holmes’ opportunity to prove that she can direct the Bulldogs’ offense. Through 11 games, Holmes has not only proven herself to be a dependable point guard. She’s shown that she can be among the nation’s elite.

The 5-foot-8 senior leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 6.89 with 62 assists and only nine turnovers. Pepperdine’s Barbara Sitanggan trailed well behind in second place at 4.43 entering the week.

In the Bulldogs’ last three games against Marquette, Southern Miss and Oregon, Holmes registered totals of 26 assists and only one turnover.

“She’s doing an exceptional job of taking care of the ball,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “That’s something she knows is really important to me. I’m really proud of her and her development.”

Along with her strong ball-handling skills, Holmes has stepped in well as a leader.

“I think our kids play hard behind her,” Schaefer said. “That’s a sign of a good point guard when you can impact your team and get them to play on a different level because of you. Jazz has been really special for us.”

Holmes’s nine turnovers are an incredible figure considering the Bulldogs forced a total of 27 turnovers at Southern Miss last Friday.

Holmes had a major hand in forcing many of USM’s miscues, coming up with a team-leading four steals. As a key piece of what has been one of the better defensive squads in the nation in recent years, Holmes leads the Bulldogs with 19 steals this season.

Holmes has always been a nightmare for opponents on defense thanks to her athleticism and ability to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

Even though Schaefer heaped praise on Holmes after an 86-42 win at USM, she served as her own worst critic.

“The last two games, I don’t think I’ve been my best defensively,” she said. “I know I can be better. I can cause a lot of trouble for people and that’s what I want to get back to doing.”

On the offensive end, Holmes is averaging 8 points and 5.64 assists a game. If she can improve on her field goal percentage of .467, MSU will be that much more dangerous in SEC play.

“I know they’re going to back off of me so I have to be able to knock down the 15-footer,” Holmes said. “I want to be able to stretch it for my teammates.”

Her former high school coach, Nancy Ladner, was among the fans in Hattiesburg on Dec. 14 to watch Holmes lead the Bulldogs to a dominant victory.

“You see how poised she is,” Ladner said. “She’s grown from a player in high school to the player she is now. That first year, she went through freshman struggles and had second thoughts. She’s grown maturity-wise. She’s learned that if you want something you have to work at it. She’s really changed. She’s really worked for where she’s at today.”

Even though Victoria Vivians and William have moved on, Mississippi State continues to rate among the best teams in the nation. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 4 with a record of 10-1 after suffering their first loss of the season in an 82-74 game at No. 7 Oregon on Tuesday.

Largely thanks to the dominant presence of 6-foot-7 senior Teaira McCowan in the post, MSU was chosen as preseason favorite to win the SEC.

The SEC slate begins on Jan. 3 with a game at Arkansas and Holmes realizes there’s plenty of work to be done before conference play begins.

“I don’t think we’re very good defensively, (Schaefer) doesn’t either,” Holmes said as her head coach looked on with a wide grin. “I think that’s going to be (the focus), to work on defense and our transition defense. That’s where we need to work and I think our offense will come.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.