LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Kendra Grant led three Mississippi State players in double figures as the Bulldogs won their opener in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic Saturday night.
No. 20/21 MSU extended its season-opening win streak to 13 straight games with a 73-36 win over Illinois-Chicago at South Point Arena.
MSU will return to action at 6 p.m. CT Sunday against Miami (Ohio) to complete its play in the tournament. Sunday’s game will also complete a stretch of six games in 11 days for the team.
“We forced 30 turnovers tonight,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “I was really proud of our effort tonight. I thought we played with great energy and great focus. We were committed defensively. I am really proud of our kids. This is the team that I am used to seeing night in, night out. It was a good step for us.”
The Bulldogs are off to their best start in program history. The 13-game win streak is also the longest win streak in program history. Mississippi State has two games remaining before completing a perfect run through non-conference play.
The 36 points allowed matched the fewest points allowed by the Bulldogs this season. The Bulldogs have held five of their last six opponents to 51 or fewer points.
Grant scored a season-high 14 points, while Victoria Vivians added 12 points and Dominique Dillingham added 10 points. Vivians, who entered the game with a team-best 16.3 points per game scoring average, has now scored in double figures in 11 of 13 games. Grant’s offensive output gives her double-figure scoring in two of the last three games.
“We are going to need Kendra Grant, I have said that all along,” Schaefer said. “She came out and really gave us some solid minutes. She made some shots. I thought (Jerica James) had a great game, floor general wise. She did a good job as our point guard. It was one of her best games, if not the best game, of her season.”
MSU used a 7-0 run to open an early 17-7 advantage. The run was capped by a 3-point basket and two free throws by Grant. The Bulldogs never trailed in the contest.
MSU later closed the half with a 12-1 run to open a 39-18 advantage at halftime. The Bulldogs held the Flames to one free throw over the final 5:29 of the half.
In the opening half, the Bulldogs shot 37.5 percent from the field, including a 5 of 14 half from 3-point range. MSU also started a strong night on the free throw line by hitting 10 of its first 12 free throw attempts.
The Bulldogs against used the mixture of strong inside play and pressure defense to open the second half with a 12-4 run. The Flames managed two field goals over the first six minutes of the second half. Vivians capped the big run with a 3-point basket, making the score 51-22.
While the Bulldogs had a strong offensive night, the story of the game may have been on the defensive end.
The Bulldogs forced the Flames into 30 turnovers. MSU has now forced 20 or more turnovers in a game 11 times this season and 30 or more turnovers in three of the last four games. MSU scored 34 points off the defensive takeaways.
“I am excited for this team (to have 13 straight wins),” Schaefer said. “I am glad this team is having this opportunity. Hopefully, we can get to 14 and 15 and keep it going. It will be hard record for somebody to break down the line.
“We had a good contingent tonight. I was proud of the crowd. This is how it is supposed to be. We traveled like a Top 25 team and played like a Top 25 team.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 25 of 77 shots from the field (32.5 percent), 8 of 22 shots from 3-point range (36.4 percent) and 15 of 19 shots from the foul line (78.9 percent). The Flames hit 10 of 46 shots from the field (21.7 percent), 0 of 5 shots from 3-point range (0 percent) and 16 of 25 shots from the foul line (64.0 percent).
MSU held a 51-44 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 12 assists and 14 turnovers, while the Flames had four assists and 30 turnovers.
Dillingham and Martha Alwal each had eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.
UIC received 13 points and 15 rebounds from Ruvanna Campbell.
(From MSU Media Relations)