"From a team standpoint it's as good a win as I've experienced," said Coach Sharon Fanning. And if not the biggest victory of the coach's MSU career, it was huge for a Ladydog team that is still getting things together in the early season.
"It feels great," said senior guard Tiania Burns. "It's my first win against a top-ranked team." State improved to 3-2 while Tech dropped it's first loss of the year and left 2-1.
The margin of victory was certainly lopsided, and there were only a combined 1:50 in the opening minutes that Mississippi State did not have the lead. But the margin belied how tense things got in the second half, when the Techsters chopped a double-digit deficit down to six points with over 16 minutes left. Consecutive three-point goals had Tech within 38-32 and the Ladydogs suddenly looking shaky.
Not for long. At the other end center Mamie McKinney scored a three-point play at 15:55 to halt that run, and the Bulldogs worked the lead back out to 15 points, 49-34, with senior guard Tan White setting the pace.
"There were some big plays," Fanning said. "We responded every time."
State had to hold off one other comeback as Tech cut the margin down to 52-45 at 9:12. The Bulldogs were tiring, much as they had at the end of the first half when a 19-point lead melted to 12 at intermission. But the home team held on. "They made a run at us," Burns said, "We played defense, we took our time, and did the things that got us the lead."
Free throws by White and two clutch putbacks by forward Blessing Chekwa kept the game under MSU control long enough for the visitors to self-destruct. With State leading 60-49, Tech turned the ball over and guard Tasha Crain was whistled for fouling White. Coach Kurt Budke earned a sudden technical at 4:10, then while the play was being recorded approached the official and was whistled for a second technical.
After he left the court White took six free throws, making five for a 65-49 margin. The series seemed to suck all life out of the teched Techsters, who scored just one basket in the last four minutes while State ran the clock out.
White finished with a game-best 28 points, 11 of those on free shots, and added eight rebounds with six assists including a behind-the-back deliver on the fastbreak to a running teammate two steps in front of her. Burns scored 13 points and Chekwa 10. Shan Moore led Tech with 17 points and eight rebounds, and Crain had 16 oints and seven boards before fouling out.
The Bulldogs had to make second-half plays to keep control, but they had set the tone with a brilliant opening 15 minutes. The crucial stretch was from 12:50 to 6:56, when State stunned the ranked visitors with a 13-2 run and built a 29-10 lead. This, by a MSU team that two games earlier had scored just 11 points in a first half against St. Joseph's in the Maine tournament.
The defensive effort was just as key, as scrappy State kept taller Tech away from the goal at both ends and hit the boards hard to prevent second-chance points. "We put out a lot of effort," White said, "we came out ready to play."
The Bulldogs play again this Sunday, Dec. 5, hosting South Alabama in a 2:00 game at The Hump. That's five days to get the team down from their cloud, but at the same time State deserves a chance to enjoy a much-needed win here in the first month of the season.
"It's a confidence booster," said Burns. "We know we can play with anybody that comes in here."