By NEMS Daily Journal and wire report
It might go into the history books as the most important eight minutes in Mississippi State women’s basketball history.
The Lady Bulldogs trailed second-seeded Ohio State 27-19 in Tuesday night’s second-round NCAA tournament game played in Pittsburgh. It was a rematch of a game MSU had lost by six points a year ago when they came unraveled in the late going.
On Tuesday, the Lady Bulldogs turned the ball over with 8:31 to play in the first half and were in danger of falling behind by double digits for the first time.
Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis missed a jumper on the other end and MSU’s Armelie Lumanu came away with the rebound. She pushed the ball upcourt to fellow senior Alexis Rack, who scored on a layup to make it a six-point game.
And it triggered a 27-5 surge – including a 16-0 run – that saw the Lady Bulldogs leading 46-34 at the half, on the way to a decisive 87-67 victory.
“We became connected and played as a team at that point,” senior Bethany Washington said. “Once we came together, so did the points.”
The seventh-seeded Lady Bulldogs (21-12) will play Florida State (28-5) in Dayton on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. It’s the first trip to the regional semifinals for Mississippi State.
The winner of that game should draw top-seeded Connecticut in next Tuesday’s regional final.
When they take the floor for their next game, the Lady Bulldogs will want to keep in mind the lessons underscored on Tuesday night.
“Too many times a season we got up and had a little roll and let the other team back in,” said Mary Kathryn Govero. “Tonight we stressed the importance of playing all 40 minutes.”
But it was that big run to halftime that seemed to deliver the knockout punch.
“We just kind of stopped playing halfway through the first half and we just let them do whatever they wanted,” Ohio State forward Sarah Schulze said.
Mississippi State hit 11 of its last 13 field goal attempts – including all four 3-pointer attempts – before intermission.
Rack (game-high 30 points) scored seven points in the surge, as did center Chanel Mokango. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Govero moved MSU from a 32-28 deficit to a 34-32 lead with 3:59 remaining.
“I knew that when Alexis hit a couple of shots … as she got hot it usually helps someone else step up as well,” said MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis. “They were focused together.”
As her team went on its decisive run, Ohio State was hitting 3 of 11 field goal attempts, with six turnovers.
And the damage had been done. The Buckeyes, champions of the Big Ten, could never get closer than 9 (the last time at 63-54) in the second half.
“When we’re all working together like we were, we’re a tough team to beat,” said guard Diamber Johnson, a sophomore from Pontotoc.
For the game, Ohio State (31-5) turned it over 24 times – and Mississippi State converted that into 37 of its points.