GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mississippi State continued its winning ways in the first game of the New Year.
Behind an SEC personal-best 21 points from sophomore Morgan William, No. 8 MSU built a 19-point lead and withstood a furious rally to knock off Florida 76-70 in the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball opener for both teams Sunday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
MSU (14-1 overall, 1-0 SEC) won its ninth straight game while snapping a 12-game win streak for Florida (12-2, 0-1). The Bulldogs have now won back-to-back series meetings from the Gators after losing the previous nine. MSU had lost won here in 2007.
MSU is now 2-2 in conference openers under fourth-year coach Vic Schaefer. State won back-to-back league lid-lifters for the first time since the 1992-93 seasons.
Florida entered the contest averaging a league-best 87.1 points per game. Only a furious 19-8 rally over the final 5:17 allowed the Gators to reach their final point total.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Schaefer said. “We have some of the toughest young ladies in the nation. We have been on the road for a while. We hang in there today. We played well for three quarters. That is a theme for us. The fourth quarter can be tricky for us.
“(William) had a monster night. God has blessed with me an incredible team. I have some incredible kids. They fought their tails off. Florida is outstanding. Our transition defense was really good. We forced 20 first-half turnovers.”
The Bulldogs placed four players in double figures. Victoria Vivians added 14 points on a 4 of 20 night from the field. Breanna Richardson had 11 points and Dominique Dillingham had 10 points. Teaira McCowan added a team-high nine rebounds.
“We knew the game was not over until zeroes were on the clock,” William said. “At the end of the game, I made sure I had the ball in my hands. If I get to the free throw line, I am confident that we can keep the lead. I have been trying to step up for my teammates.”
Fresh off a neutral site win over nationally-ranked South Florida Wednesday, MSU again put together a fast start.
After Florida scored the opening basket of the game, MSU scored the game’s next four points and never trailed. Behind a brilliant performance on the defensive end from William and Dillingham, the Bulldogs quickly started putting clamps on the league’s best offense.
A layup by Ketara Chapel placed the Bulldogs on top 14-8. MSU led 21-15 after one quarter.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs continued to pick up the pace offensively. A 7-0 run was capped by a Dillingham trey and the lead was 28-17. After Florida closed within nine, MSU again responded with the game’s next seven points.
A layup by Richardson ran the lead to 40-24. The Maroon and White lead 42-26 at halftime.
In the second half, MSU would stretch the lead to 19 before Florida finished strong. The Gators would closed within four points at 74-70. However, William hit 5 of 6 free throws over the final 1:32 to secure victory.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 29 of 71 shots from the field (40.8 percent), 4 of 12 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 14 of 20 shots from the foul line (70.0 percent). The Gators hit 22 of 68 shots from the field (32.4 percent), 5 of 21 shots from 3-point range (23.8 percent) and 21 of 28 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent).
Florida held a 51-46 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had seven assists and 25 turnovers, while the Gators had 11 assists and 32 turnovers.
Florida received 17 points from Carlie Needles and 11 points from Ronni Williams.
“A win on the road is a game-and-a-half,” Schaefer said. “We had a 6:30 practice yesterday morning. Our shoot around was at 7 this morning. This is a tough team. If we wanted to shoot in the main arena, we had to go that early. The girls said this was a business trip. I love our mentality and our approach to the game. They are being pros. I love that about being them.”
The Bulldogs now return to the Humphrey Coliseum for a pair of conference games. MSU faces Auburn at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network +) and Arkansas at 2 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network +).
Thursday’s game will be the inaugural SEC Network whip-around coverage. The network will alternate between games, while each contest will be available in its entirety online on the SEC Network +.
(From MSU Media Relations)