For a MSU team that came into the contest on a six-game SEC losing skid, knocking off the Rebels was the best possible way to turn things around in the late season. "It was a huge game for, and a big win," said Coach Sharon Fanning.
And a huge night for State's backcourt. Seniors Tan White and Tiania Burns and junior Doceide Warren all scored in double-digits and combined for 42 points in a victory the club obviously needed. "We knew this was going to be a big game, and we came our focused," said White. "We played as good as we have in a long time."
Good? Great was more like it, as the Bulldogs built as much as a 21-point lead in the first half and 24-point cushions three times in the second period. It was more margin than Mississippi was able to make up in the frantic final minutes.
White took more personal satisfaction than most in the rivalry win. "This was a big win for us, we brought a lot of energy to the game." The current NCAA scoring leader, averaging 23.2 points, took only nine shots but made five of them and finished with 13 points, along with a dozen rebounds. She also blocked a shot and in the process became MSU's career swat-leader at 110.
Instead of being a one-Dog show, White was able to get everybody involved and hand out seven assists. Many of those scoring passes went to Warren, who had a season-high 14 points, and Burns with a team-best 15 markers including two treys. "It was a lot of movement on offense," White said, "a lot of reversals that we haven't been doing, making the extra pass and playing as a team."
Team play was evident from the tip. The Bulldogs might have limped into this rematch, but they certainly hit the court running and raced to a double-digit lead before the Rebels could get into gear. Sharp ball movement created good shots and the whole lineup got involved, making seven of the first 11 attempts and converting a couple of the misses into second-chance baskets.
When White banged in a trey at State had a 23-6 lead. By contrast over the first ten minutes of play Mississippi was just 2-of-14 from the floor, and having trouble taking care of the ball. So when Warren stole an inbounds pass for a running layup, then drove right through the UM zone for a 30-9 score. The halftime count was 35-15, and the difference reached 41-17 barely two minutes into the new period.
With 11:28 it was still a 24-point game, 49-25 after a Warren layup. The Rebels had turned to a pressure defense of some sort very early, either full-court or on the ball, but it did not have too much effect until the last eight minutes. State got caught up in the end-to-end atmosphere and lost control of both the ball and the game.
Mississippi tried to take advantage and chipped away at the deficit, pulling within 14 points by 6:30 and nine points at 3:00. The Bulldogs gave them help, too, with unforced or unnecessary turnovers against the pressure. Fanning burned timeouts but her team was still careless with the ball at 1:13 the score was 58-50. State finally steadied, ran a real play and got a backdoor layup from Ebonie Ferguson with 59 ticks left to essentially seal the outcome.
"I think we were trying to take the ball at them," Warren said of the late drama. "We had to hold up and keep our heads." And the lead, too, which the Dogs did.
"I was so proud of composure down the stretch, keeping our head and playing together," said Fanning.
Forward Armintie Price led UM with 15 points and a game-best 17 rebounds, while Elizabeth Cansdale came off the bench for 11 points and three treys. The Rebels barely won the battle of the boards 41-39, but had 21offensive rebounds for 17 second-chance points. The Bulldogs did set a season-mark with seven blocked shots, against their taller rivals.
State needed something good to happen, not just to end a league losing string but to take some new confidence into a two-game road trip. The Bulldogs are at Kentucky this Sunday and Tennessee next Thursday. So Fanning's post-game smile was equal parts pleasure and relief.
"It was a huge game for us and a big win," she said.