MSU Women Get Win; Prepare For New Orleans

Mississippi State (5-5) jumpred out to big lead in the first half and hung on to it for the entire second half, despite a hard charge by Grambling (4-7) to preserve a 72-63 win at Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday night. Three Lady Bulldogs reached double figures in scoring, led by Alexis Rack's career high 18 points and double-double performances from Imesia Jackson and Tysheka Grimes.

"I was pleased that we were able to get an early lead," said MSU coach Sharon Fanning. "I was disappointed that we let them climb back into the ballgame though. We had a twenty-point lead and you are supposed to turn that into a thirty or forty point lead. I know this is a team (Grambling) that is going to scrap really hard and switch defenses on you, which will lead to some mistakes. You still have to attack on offense but not rush things. In the second half, we were playing on top of each other. We would have the ball and we'd jump our own backs. We were hustling, but we were not seeing each other well on the court. Our court vision and footwork must improve. Assist-to-turnovers at halftime I was pleased with, but in the second-half I was disappointed and just pleased that they were not able to hit shots."

After Grambling jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first minute of the game, Grimes and Jackson tied the game with field goals. Five minutes into the game, MSU went on a 14-0 run that took about five minutes off the game clock. Seemingly MSU put the game on cruise control. Grambling could do nothing to knock the swagger out of the Lady Bulldogs the rest of the first half.

"We came out with good intensity tonight, but we let the game get out of hand from the guard standpoint," said Grambling coach Rusty Ponton. "Alexis (Rack) did a great job for MSU tonight. She was the difference for them, as well as Imesia (Jackson). They controlled things tonight, and that got us out of our game. From the standpoint of the game, I thought our ladies competed, but we got down early tonight, which you can't do against a good team. We did fight back and got the game to four, but again, I think our ladies came out and fought hard and competed and that's all we ask them to do."

MSU took a 48-32 lead into the dressing room as MSU doubled up the points in the paint 24-12 and held an eight-rebound advantage. State turned the ball over just nine times in the first half. The one thing that MSU couldn't do was maintain the mental edge in the second half.

"Before the game, the team set a few halftime goals, and we achieved four of our six goals we set," Jackson said about the difference between the first and second halves. "We came out and played hard. In the second half, we let our guard down. We were satisfied with the lead as opposed to making sure we had the game won."

Bethany Washington got a lay-up less than 30 seconds into the second half. But from that point, the scoring iron went cold for the Lady Bulldogs. It took the MSU over five minutes to score again, when Jackson nailed a jump shot to end a 7-0 Grambling run.

The Lady Tigers continued to chip slowly away at the deficit using a full court press and tough defense to force MSU into 14 second-half turnovers that included seven steals. By the 11:50 mark, the 300 fans in attendance were watching a four-point game. Grimes made her second basket of the half to give MSU just their sixth point in the second stanza and make the score 54-48.

Grambling cut the MSU lead to a single basket, but Jackson quickly answered with a field goal at the 7:55 mark to to make the score 56-52. That was as close as Grambling would get.

"We're not a slow tempo team, but we have so many young kids who are not familiar with the press and the way we normally play it," Ponton said. "We made some mistakes at some key points. We were down by four points and then we turned the ball over two times in a row and you can't do that with the momentum."

From that point, Rack got hot, making four field goals and four free throws in the final six and half minutes.

"In the second half, we were not playing our type of basketball," she said. "We started playing their type of basketball. We tried to build a lead back up. We had a go-and-get-it-attitude and that is how we pulled off this win."

Jackson had her second career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds, which included 5 points and 6 rebounds in the second half. She guarded Lacey Cromier' the entire night. Cromier', who scored 11 points and had 10 rebounds, had a height and weight advantage on Jackson.

"She (Cromier') blocked a couple of my shots, but I am the type of player that keeps on taking it to the basket and this is what I did," Jackson said. "She is a good player."

"Imesia is always going to be important to us," Fanning said. "She is our main low-post presence, but she also has a transition presence for us. Her quickness and athleticism is important to us. She has to utilize that for us from rim-to-rim. I think one thing she has to improve on is countering to the post defense instead of the turn around shot that was blocked several times tonight. She may need to develop an up-and-under move, or a pump fake, to help her score more points. Sometimes when she is cutting, we are not passing her the basketball. We cannot force the pass in there, but we need better vision so she can get more touches. We need her to play somewhere around 30-35 minutes a ball game."

Grimes had her biggest impact in the first half when she scored 9 of her 11 points and had 7 or her 10 rebounds. Robin Porter scored 8 points and had 8 rebounds. Bethany Washington added 6 points while Marneshia Richard scored 3 points. Two other players who came off the MSU bench to score were Amy Reeder and Miayorka Johnson, who scored 5 and 2 points, respectively. Bethany Workman, Heather Hollis, Lauren Roberts, Natasha Henderson and Channa Campbell played but did not score.

"Heather played with focus down the stretch," Fanning said. "It came down to where it was between deciding to go with Amy (Reeder), Heather (Hollis), Miayorka (Johnson), Tysheka (Grimes), or Robin (Porter). We already knew Alexis (Rack) and Marneshia (Richard) were going to play together. We had to decide which one to put in. All the girls bring something good to the court, but at the time it looked like Heather was focused so we let her play extended minutes. When she fell at Purdue, I think it scared her, but she will have to play through that. She showed tonight she is not afraid to step in front of someone on defense. She is showing good signs of recovering from her concussion."

Kourtney Sherman led Grambling scoring 14 points.

The win halts a four-game losing streak for the Lady Bulldogs, who started the season with a 4-1 record that included an overtime win over then previously undefeated Florida State.

"You can not question yourself when you are playing to win," Fanning said. "You should not be thinking about anything but winning. You are using the fundamentals it takes to win, and we are working on keeping the girls focused on that. There has to be some 'self taught' that the girls have. That is something you gain with maturity. You cannot question your shot. You have to be ready to pass, and see the court well. All that comes with maturity. We have a young group we play with. Among our leading scorers were freshmen and sophomores. We are all still trying to learn together, and I hope we continue to find the positives out of these games. We will enjoy this win and fight back, and hopefully react differently than after the Florida State game."

Mississippi State travels to Jackson on Wednesday for practice before an autograph session at the Mississippi Coliseum that begins at 6:00 p.m. The Lady Bulldogs return to action on Thursday, against the Lady Privateers of New Orleans. Tip-off is slated for 4:30 p.m. and precedes the men's game with UNO at 7 p.m. The UNO women (6-6) defeated Mercer 47-36 on Tuesday night.

"We are looking forward to it," Fanning said. "We will prepare to play hard, and like I said before, New Orleans is a very experienced team with some size and experience. We have to adjust and limit our mistakes to give ourselves a chance to beat them. We have to play together and not look ahead to that break for Christmas; otherwise we'll be distracted. We need fans to show up for our game, because they make a huge difference."

Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website. He can be reached by email at

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