STARKVILLE – Mississippi State’s women had a reason to smile Thursday night, but it was only a half-smile.
The Lady Bulldogs picked up their 20th victory of the season, grinding out a 58-41 win over lowly South Carolina at Humphrey Coliseum.
A sloppy first half provided little reason to believe that MSU was going to bounce back from two straight losses.
A team more resembling the real Lady Bulldogs showed up in the second half, though, and wore down the Lady Gamecocks (10-16, 2-11 SEC) on Senior Night.
“I don’t think that we’ve reached any plateau by any means of what we’re capable of doing as a basketball team,” MSU coach Sharon Fanning said. “There’s been some very good spurts of it at home and on the road. But it’s something that we have to continue to step up with if we want to continue to be playing here in a few weeks where we want to be playing.”
State (20-8, 7-6) has one regular season game remaining, Sunday at Alabama.
Then it’s the SEC Tournament and, hopefully, its first NCAA tournament berth since 2002-03 – the last time Fanning’s team won 20 games.
To get there, MSU will need to build on its improved performance in the second half Thursday.
It led 20-19 at halftime but was being outrebounded (19-17) and outshot (40.9 percent to 30.0 percent).
“First half, we had no team defense, weren’t communicating,” said senior Donnisha Tate, who had eight points on 4-of-4 shooting off the bench.
MSU was getting pushed around, just as it had in losses to Tennessee and Auburn, and shot only 2 of 11 from 3-point range.
South Carolina took a momentary lead out of the locker room, but State used a 14-6 surge to earn its largest lead of the game to that point, 34-28, and the margin creeped upwards from there.
It reached 42-32 on Mary Kathryn Govero’s putback with 6 minutes, 17 seconds to go.
MSU had 16 offensive rebounds on the game, and it won the overall rebounding battle in the second half, 20-18.
South Carolina shot 32.0 percent in the second half to MSU’s 50.0 percent.
All eight of State’s fast-break points came after halftime, which was when South Carolina committed 14 of its 23 turnovers.
“That’s the only way we can win games, if we rebound and pick up our defense. That’s the bottom line – defense,” senior Robin Porter said.
Center Chanel Mokango led MSU with 13 points, while Alexis Rack scored 11.
Lakeisha Sutton had 14 for South Carolina.
“We ran out of gas, and we ran out of mental toughness,” first-year coach Dawn Staley said.
The Lady Bulldogs hope to have plenty of both as the SEC and NCAA Tournaments approach in the coming weeks.
“A lot of people ask about the importance of every game, and every single game’s important to put yourself in a position to go into the SEC Tournament, to go into postseason play and the NCAA tournament,” Fanning said. “You have to play your best basketball right now.”
Around the SEC
n Georgia 61, Kentucky 57: Ashley Houts scored a game-high 26 points for the Bulldogs, including 5-of-6 free throws in the final 61 seconds.
Georgia had lost five in a row.
n LSU 63, No. 18 Tennessee 61: Katherine Graham made two free throws with 7.9 seconds remaining for the Lady Tigers (16-9, 9-4).
The Lady Vols (19-9, 8-5) have lost 3 of their last 4.
n Box score, Page 2C
Brad Locke/Daily Journal