By Miss. State Media Relations
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State found playing as the third place team in the Southeastern Conference to its liking. Four days after moving into sole possession of third place, the Lady Bulldogs will remain there after a 73-54 dismantling of in-state rival Ole Miss Sunday afternoon inside the Humphrey Coliseum.
The Lady Bulldogs improved to 17-9 overall and 8-5 in league play by winning a third straight against the Lady Rebels on their home floor. MSU will finish with eight or more league wins for the fifth time in program history. The Lady Bulldogs will also go .500 or better in league play for the eighth time ever.
Ole Miss fell to 16-9 and 6-6. The Lady Rebels were unable to duplicate a 66-58 victory over MSU last month in Oxford. MSU will enter the new week with a half-game lead on Vanderbilt and a full-game lead over Georgia in the conference standings. However, MSU does own the tie-breaker on each of those teams.
Sunday’s victory proved even more resounding since the MSU women played without the services of leading scorer Alexis Rack. Rack suffered a foot injury in Thursday’s 55-53 win over South Carolina and did not dress for Sunday’s victory.
“It was a great team victory,” MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “We won with the fundamentals and the focus that you have to have to win in this league. I can not say enough about our bench play. However, if you look back over our season, when we are successful, it is because players step up and respond to the challenge.”
A Humphrey Coliseum crowd of 2,134 and a regional television audience watched as the hosts scored the first six points of the contest and were never tied or behind throughout the entire contest. MSU used a 13-4 run midway through the first half to open a 22-11 advantage. That lead held true as the Lady Bulldogs led 34-22 at the intermission.
Behind a very spirited defensive effort, M-State actually ran the lead to as many as 21 points in the final half. Six straight points capped another 13-4 run as the Lady Bulldogs led 47-26 with 16:13 remaining. Thanks to some long-range 3-point shooting, the Lady Rebels closed within 10 at 62-52 but could get no closer the remainder of the way.
“Ole Miss is a very good basketball team,” Fanning-Otis said. “If you look at the statistics, you see that we had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. We shoot 52 percent in the first half because we got some easy baskets in transition. Defensively, we hold them to 35 percent shooting. If you have that focus on the defensive end, you can win a lot of games in our league.”
For the contest, the Lady Bulldogs hit 25 of 58 shots from the field (43.1 percent), 6 of 18 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 17 of 22 shots from the foul line (77.3 percent). The Lady Rebels hit 20 of 56 shots from the field (35.7 percent), 6 of 30 shots from 3-point range (20.0 percent) and 8 of 12 shots from the foul line (66.7 percent).
MSU held a 39-35 rebounding advantage. The Lady Bulldogs had 16 assists and 12 turnovers, while the Lady Rebels had 11 assists and 18 turnovers.
“In our league, everybody is improving,” Fanning-Otis said. “Our players have to realize that this week we have to get better as a basketball team. The whole key is everybody playing hard and contributing. We have some positives we can take from this game but we still have to keep working to be a better basketball team.”
Armelie Lumanu paced MSU with 18 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Lumanu was joined in double figures by Mary Kathryn Govero with 15 points, including a trio of 3-point baskets, and Tysheka Grimes with 14 points. Chanel Mokango also had nine rebounds. Also for MSU, freshman Ashley Jones hit a pair of 3-point baskets during the game-opening 22-11 run.
Ole Miss received a team-high 17 points from Bianca Thomas. Kayla Melson followed with 13 points, while Elizabeth Robertson scored 11 points. Katorra Lewis had a team-high nine rebounds for the Lady Rebels.
M-State closes its regular season home slate by hosting Auburn at 2 p.m. next Sunday. Senior day honors will take place prior to tip-off. The Lady Bulldogs then close the regular season by visiting Alabama and LSU.
Ole Miss returns to action Thursday at 7 p.m. when the Rebels travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks from Bud Walton Arena.