Second-Half Surge Keeps #14 Ladydogs Unbeaten

The #14-ranked Lady Bulldogs needed a spark. So they went to their smallest sparkplug, and Morgan William delivered in a big way.

With Mississippi State’s perfect record in second-half jeopardy William—all 5-5 of her—rose to the challenge. The freshman guard made a full range of effort plays, at each end, and turned a tight game into a 72-57 Bulldog victory.

“Coach always tells me he needs me to get moving fast and faster,” William said. “I like going fast.”

With William setting the pace Mississippi State was able to finish very fast indeed. Trailing 51-49 at 11:47 of the last half, William didn’t give Arkansas time to spread the defense. She sunk a trey for the first Bulldog lead since the opening minutes. Then despite the size challenge William ran under the rim for a rebound, took off on a fastbreak and scored in traffic herself.

That wasn’t all, at all. Despite missing a layup on her end William got downcourt to snag a missed Arkansas three-pointer and trigger another break finished by fellow freshman Victoria Vivians. For good offensive measure William was able to ice the victory with four-straight free throws and even assist center Martha Alwal for the last basket of the game.

“Obviously Morgan comes in and energizes the whole building,” Coach Vic Schaefer said. “She has a different level that she brings the ball down the floor.”

And more, as William finished with 11 points, five assists, a couple of rebounds and even one block (!) in the lane. But it was her road-runner ball movement that drew at least three ‘ooooh’ moments from the home crowd of 3,556 and even some smiles from the opponents.

“I hear it,” said William. “I like it, I like to get the crowd in the game!”

Sparked by the rookie guard the crowd was able to enjoy a 18th Bulldog victory in as many contests this season. And for the first time ever Mississippi State is off to a 3-0 start in SEC play. Arkansas left 10-5, 0-3. Left frustrated, too, because for one whole half and part of the next the Razorbacks were bidding to blemish that perfect record.

With guards Callie Berna and Kelsey Brooks slashing through State’s man-defense or feeding forward Melissa Wolff at the goal, Arkansas played a superb first period. They were 14-of-23 from the field including 4-of-5 work at the three-point arc when the driving lanes did get closed down. For a State team that prides itself on tight defense, allowing 61% shooting was inexplicable.

Fortunately in the second half it was unrepeatable. The Dogs adjusted to deny first steps from the key, forcing Arkansas to take more jumpshots than they wanted. Most missed, with just 4-of-29 shooting the whole half. After taking one final lead, 55-54 at 7:54, the Razorbacks did not make another field goal and just three free throws.

“We’re not going to beat a high school team when we shoot 14%,” first-year Arkansas Coach Jimmy Dykes said. Or not with the home team out-scoring them 29 to 9 to run out the evening.

“I’m almost mad they were able to give up 61% and be able to win,” Schaefer said. There was no almost to his halftime aggravation even though State had gradually drawn even with the visitors…at least until UA’s Berna heaved in a half-court shot to beat the buzzer for a 40-37 intermission lead. Still the Bulldogs had been getting their defensive act together.

They now needed offense and got it, first from Vivians. She had hit her first shot of the night, a trey, but was stuck on six points at the break. Vivans exceeded that by 14:28 of the second period with nine points.

“Victoria flat made up her mind she’d had enough and took over the ball game for a stretch,” Schaefer said. At the other end guard Dominque Dillingham made life miserable for Arkansas ball-handlers. “Whoever it was they didn’t have much of a chance,” said Schaefer.

And when William subbed in at 12:11, the spark did too. Vivians still led the offense with a game-best 21 points, while backup forward Breanna Richardson added 11 points and eight rebounds. Her entry in the first half along with center Alwal did much to cool the Arkansas attack, and contribute to a 44-34 edge in rebounding. Guards Kendra Grant and Savannah Carter combined for 13 points off the bench.

In fact Bulldog backups, alternates really, scored 39 total points. Arkansas had only four points from non-starters. “They’ve got a long bench, Vic uses it well,” Dykes said. “We’ve got to get tougher and stronger on the road if’ we’re going to win a game in the SEC.”

Brookes had 16 points for Arkansas on 5-of-20 shooting with 12 by Berna and 10 from Wolff.

”I have no explanation for 61% field goal defense, then turn around and give up four baskets the second half,” Schaefer said. “Other than obvious we have a different focus coming out of the locker room.” A different energy to thanks to rookies William and Vivians.

Every Bulldog will need to bring some spark for the next test. Mississippi State puts its ranking and perfect record(s) on the line and on the road again with a 2:00 Saturday game at Vanderbilt. For a manager like Schaefer Memorial Gym is a real change of pace, what with baseline benches. It won’t be easy communicating, especially with so many young Dogs playing.

“But hey, we’re not scared,” Schaefer said. “We’ll go in with a great gameplan, and I couldn’t pick a better group to go in there with.”

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