For most, Sunday is a day of rest. For the Mississippi State women’s basketball team, it is another day to grind out a victory in the Southeastern Conference.The Bulldogs made it three straight Sunday afternoon victories in league play with a hard-fought 61-56 victory over Missouri at the Mizzou Arena.
In a first-ever meeting between the two schools, the Bulldogs won a conference road game for the first time this season. In typical Coach Vic Schaefer fashion, the Bulldogs did it with a splendid effort on the defensive end.
MSU held Missouri to 38.6 percent shooting from the field and forced 20 turnovers. After hitting 11 3-point baskets in a stunning win over Tennessee last Sunday, the Tigers were only 3-of-20 from long range against the Maroon and White.
“I’m very proud of my players,” Schaefer said. “I thought they played their hearts out today. They did a great job of taking the scouting report my staff put together and executing it. I thought we did a great job taking away what Missouri likes to do. (My group) is a very resilient group that keeps working hard.”
The Bulldogs also did the right things on offense to eventually grab a win in a tightly-contested battle. There were six lead changes and neither team led by more than six points. The Bulldogs hit 10 straight free throws in the final 2:23.
“Those first couple of losses were really hard on us,” MSU sophomore forward Martha Alwal said. “But we just had to buy into the system even more. I think as a team we stayed together even more when we were down. We talked to each other and kept each other up. We believed in each other.”
MSU established an inside presence with Martha Alwal down low early in the contest. Alwal scored a couple of early baskets as the Bulldogs built a 13-8 advantage.
Missouri responded with an 8-2 run to grab a 16-15 lead. However, the Bulldogs were already scattering the Tigers on their offensive end. MSU forced 13 first-half turnovers with the Maroon and White able to knock away some balls and create fast-break opportunities.
A jumper by Alwal helped the Bulldogs reclaim a four-point lead before Missouri battled back for a 25-25 tie at halftime.
In the second half, the Bulldogs hit 16 free throws and took care of the basketball. MSU committed 11 turnovers – its second-lowest total in a conference game.
“We were just patient,” said May, a junior guard for MSU. “We were patient in what the defense gave us and executing what coach planned for us.”
The Bulldogs fell down six at 37-31 before MSU’s Darriel Gaynor started the rally. Gaynor hit a conference season-high four 3-point baskets, with three of those coming in the game’s final half. Gaynor brought the Bulldogs within two on the second of her back-to-back treys. A 3-pointer by May placed the Bulldogs on top, 42-40 with 11:02 left.
MSU did not relinquish the lead the rest of the way as Missouri had a seven-minute stretch without a field goal.
“Missouri shot 26 percent in the second half,” Schaefer said. “You don’t do that and force 20 turnovers without getting out and playing your heart out. That’s what we have been trying to teach them is being competitive and playing your absolute best representing Mississippi State.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 18 of 54 shots from the field (33.3 percent), 6 of 11 shots from 3-point range (54.5 percent) and 19 of 25 shots from the foul line (76.0 percent). The Tigers hit 17 of 44 shots from the field (38.6 percent), 3 of 20 shots from 3-point range (15.0 percent) and 19 of 25 shots from the foul line (76.0 percent).
Missouri held a 38-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had eight assists and 11 turnovers, while the Tigers had nine assists and 20 turnovers.
May led MSU with 16 points, while Alwal and Gaynor each had 14 points. Alwal posted her 12th double-double as she also pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds.
Liene Priede led Missouri with 14 points, while Bri Kulas and Liz Smith each added 10 points apiece for the Tigers.
MSU remains on the road for a Thursday night tussle with Ole Miss. The in-state rivals tip at 7 p.m. on Valentine’s Day at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford.