STARKVILLE, Miss. (MSU Athletics) – Martha Alwal’s lay-in with 3.3 seconds left lifted the Mississippi State women’s basketball team to its biggest win of the season Sunday afternoon.
The final shot capped a tremendous contest in the Humphrey Coliseum as MSU upset No. 16 Vanderbilt 64-62 in a regionally-televised Southeastern Conference slugfest.
“I went up there and tried to be tough,” said Alwal on her game-winning shot. “When it went through, I was happy. I just wanted to take the ball in there and try to score.”
Alwal tied her conference high with 23 points, including 18 in the second half and 14 of the squad’s final 21 points.
Decked out in pink as part of the school’s annual Think Pink contest for Breast Cancer Awareness, the Bulldogs treated the coliseum crowd of 2,354 to a dramatic comeback as the Maroon and White clawed back from a seven-point halftime deficit to snap a six-game losing streak to the Commodores.
MSU claimed a win against a Top 20 team for the second-straight season to improve to 17-9 overall and 4-8 in league play. Vanderbilt fell to 17-8 and 6-6.
“Super proud of the kids,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “I love how competitive they have become. I love how they fought in the second half. We set the game back 20 years in the first half. In the second half, we threw the first punch and didn’t let up.
“Martha put us on her back. Jerica James really gave us a lift. She does so many things defensively. Point guard play is a big reason why we have won 17 games. This team beat us by 51 last year, so to come out and compete this way is great.”
MSU battled through some offensive struggles in the first 20 minutes.
Vanderbilt quickly built a 15-7 lead eight minutes into the contest. Behind a strong first half from Morgan Batey, the Commodores held the upper hand throughout the first half. The lead grew to 10 at 21-11 with 8:11 left in the opening half.
The Bulldogs closed within four at 21-17 on a layup by Savannah Carter. However, early foul trouble and 30.4 percent shooting from the field helped place the Bulldogs down 28-21 at halftime.
“After hearing from our coaches what we needed to do in the second half, we knew we had to go out there and make some changes,” James said. “This team has leadership. When we huddle, we talk about what we need to do and how we should do it. We had leadership not from one person but from several people.
“All that was on our mind today was winning.”
MSU turned up the defensive pressure and came out the gates strong to start the second half. The Bulldogs were within one at 33-32 on a Kendra Grant jumper with 15:43 left in the contest.
The Maroon and White kept plugging away before finally grabbing their first lead at 50-49 on a free throw by Dominique Dillingham with 7:17 left in the contest.
The lead switched hands a couple of times before MSU seized control for good. The Bulldogs built a four-point lead at 58-54 on two free throws by Breanna Richardson. A steal and layup by Katia May placed MSU on top 60-58.
Alwal then gave the Bulldogs their final two leads at 62-60 with 1:16 left and more than a minute later hit the game-winner.
“We forced 26 turnovers so that is 52 points Vanderbilt couldn’t score,” Schaefer said. “Vanderbilt shoots 62 percent from the field in the second half and we outscored them by nine. They are a really good team. They are a team that beat Tennessee. There are some things we don’t well, but we are always going to compete and play hard.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 22 of 48 shots from the field (45.8 percent), 4 o 13 shots from 3-point range (30.8 percent) and 16 of 20 shots from the foul line (80.0 percent). The Commodores hit 23 of 41 shots from the field (56.1 percent), 4 of 9 shots from 3-point range (44.4 percent) and 12 of 19 shots from the foul line (63.2 percent).
Vanderbilt held a 32-18 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 19 assists and 18 turnovers, while the Commodores had 16 assists and 26 turnovers.
Alwal added a team-high six rebounds to go with her 23 points. Richardson added 16 points, and May contributed six assists and a pair of steals.
Vanderbilt received a double-double from Batey (13 points, 11 rebounds). Christina Foggie led the Commodores with 15 points, four points below her average, while Jasmine Lister also had 13 points.
MSU returns to the road Thursday for a 7 p.m. contest at Alabama.