SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A strong defensive stand late lifted the No. 9 Mississippi State women’s basketball team to victory Saturday morning in the Puerto Rico Classic.
Led by 15 points from Victoria Vivians, MSU held Florida Gulf Coast to 10 fourth-quarters points to post a 65-60 victory in its tournament opener.
MSU (9-1) won its fourth straight while winning on a neutral floor for the first time this season. The Bulldogs will face three opponents in three days at this event before breaking for the Christmas holiday.
“(Florida Gulf Coast) is always a Top-25 team,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “They just play so differently and we had one day prep. After being up 12 and then having them come back and tie the game, I’m really proud of how we responded.”
“Morgan (William) iced the game with back-to-back possessions at the free throw line. We got some stops that we really had to have.”
Vivians scored in double figures for a ninth straight game. She was joined in double figures by William with 14 points, Ketara Chapel with 13 points and Breanna Richardson with 11 points.
MSU started on fire offensively for a third straight game. Vivians scored 11 first-quarter points as the Bulldogs quickly built a 22-16 after one period. The Bulldogs never trailed in the opening period and eased to the lead thanks to the offensive play of Vivians and Chapel.
In the second quarter, Kayla Nevitt rammed home a pair of 3-point baskets to spark an 8-0 run. That spurt pushed the Bulldogs to a 30-20 advantage with 5:57 left in the half. The Eagles were held to one field goal over the first five minutes of the second quarter.
Richardson made a basket to push the advantage to 12 points. MSU held a similar lead at 41-29 at halftime.
With 6:30 left in the third quarter, Vivians made a basket to push the advantage to a game-best 14 points, at 48-34. From there, FGCU (7-4) put together quite a rally to make the game competitive.
The Eagles scored the final two baskets on the quarter to pull within 53-50 after three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, it was all about defense for the Maroon and White. FGCU evened things at 53, 55 and 57. With MSU then protecting a two-point and later a four-point lead, the Bulldogs turned the Eagles away on five straight possessions.
Richardson went 6-for-6 at the line during the final quarter, and she had a steal and layup that proved huge as it gave MSU a 61-57 lead with 4:02 remaining. The Bulldogs also forced back-to-back shot clock violations during the decisive run.
“(Richardson) really came up big for us on the defensive end and hit her free throws,” Schaefer said. “Ketara had another great night for us. We had four players in double figures. We played hard, but we have to get ready to play again tomorrow.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 23 of 57 shots from the field (40.4 percent), 5 of 15 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 14 of 17 shots from the foul line (82.4 percent). The Eagles hit 25 of 56 shots from the field (44.6 percent), 5 of 18 shots from 3-point range (27.8 percent) and 5 of 7 shots from the foul line (71.4 percent).
MSU held a 36-32 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had nine assists and 15 turnovers, while the Eagles had nine assists and 18 turnovers.
FGCU received a game-high 25 points from Kaneisha Atwater and game-high eight rebounds from Taylor Gradinjan.
Chapel led the Bulldogs with seven rebounds.
MSU resumes tournament play at 12:15 p.m. CT Sunday against Western Michigan. The tournament finale is also at 12:15 p.m. CT Monday against SMU.
(From MSU Media Relations)