"We were shooting comfortable tonight," said guard Tan White, who led State with 16 points. Guard Tiania Burns added 14 points, and the ‘TnT' tandem had 22 combined points in outscoring the entire Lion team in the first half. Guard Ebonie Ferguson came off the bench for another 12 points. It was a career-high for Ferguson.
"My teammates did some penetrating and dishing, they helped me out a lot," Ferguson said.
Half of all MSU field goals were on shots from outside the arc, and six Dogs had at least one three-ball. Fittingly the final points of the night came on a really long shot—a two-handed, 24-footer by reserve Miayorka Johnson that banked in at the buzzer.
Such long-range accuracy was a major change of pace as State came in shooting just 27.3% on trey-tries. This night was a total turnaround with the Dogs hitting 13-of-22, or 59.1%. In the process they set a MSU team record for treys in The Hump, and tied the facility record of 13 set by Tennessee Tech in 2001.
But such shooting should not have been a surprise, according to White. "We have a lot of people capable of making three-pointers. Sometimes we're off and just hit a few, tonight we got a lot of great looks and everybody knocked them down."
It actually took a while before State delivered the knockout punches, as both teams had more turnovers than baskets for five minutes and MSU's lead was just 12-6 at 14:19. But when the Bulldogs finally got a bead on SELa's zone defense, they let loose a barrage that shot the Lions out of the game. Burns' trey at 14:02 was the third of the game, but it was also the start of a 13-0 run with Ferguson bagging a pair of three-balls that really blew things open.
And just as soon as the Lions broke their four-minute drought, State went on an even more impressive tear. From 10:00 to 6:25 the Bulldogs outscored SELa 17-1 with three treys (two by White) in the run. In fact, State took such complete control that, after taking a 43-12 lead at 4:21 MSU did not score again in the half…and still led by 27 points at intermission. The cold spell naturally coincided with Fanning sending in a host of reserves to run out the half.
Halftime only meant a pause in the assault, though, as the Lions went over six minutes without scoring until free throws by McGowan at 13:48. By then State had stretched the lead to a game-high 36 points, at 52-16. The closest Southeastern could get was 59-35 at 5:11 after another spell of State substituting, with Fanning briefly putting the starters back oncourt to settle play down.
"It was a W, and a playing time for a lot of folks," said Fanning, who was able to use almost the whole active roster as 13 Bulldogs got into the game before it ended. All but two—Natasha Henderson and Alexandria Hagler—scored at least one point. Limited to just 24 minutes, White still became the second Bulldogs to surpass 1,900 career points, now with 1,910. She got there in her 100th career game.
The Bulldogs improved to 6-2 after winning for the fifth-straight game, while the Lions left 3-3. It had been a decade since the program had played anywhere, and after that whipping it might be as long again before SELa returns to Starkville.
"They're better than us," SELa Coach Lori Davis Jones. "College athletes, you get an open three-pointer you're supposed to hit it. They did." The Lions were led by regular starting guard Dacia McGowan, who came off the bench this game and scored 19 points.
"This will get our confidence up," White said. "We had a lot of rotations get in and get a feel for how to play. It got everybody involved, and it's getting everybody's mindset right going into the SEC."
The conference is still three weeks away. The Bulldogs have a couple of days off before returning to the home court at hosts of the MSU Classic, to be played Sunday and Monday. On the first day State plays San Jose State at 3:00, after Grambling takes on Louisiana-Monroe at 1:00. Monday's consolation game is at 2:00 and the championship game at 5:00, as part of a first-ever ‘tripleheader' in The Hump. The MSU men play Florida A&M at 7:30. A special $10 general admission ticket will be available for non-men's season ticket holders for the whole day's action.
"We're going to have to change gears now," Fanning said. "San Jose State is more like our league, and this is a big tournament for us. We know who our top seven players are, we're looking for the eighth and ninth players to step up for us."