Getting production from walk-ons is one thing, but there were several areas on the boxscore that caught Fanning attention.
MSU had 22 assists against just 13 turnovers. The last time MSU had 22 assists was December 16, 2003 against UT-Martin. On the season, MSU ranks tenth in the SEC with a .65 assist-to-turnover ratio. That ratio for just SEC games is .66, ninth best in the league. Tonight, MSU had a 1.69 assist-turnover ratio. This statistic is normally the first thing Fanning reviews after each game.
"It is one of our best marks in recent time, and that comes from making good, smart passes, and taking the easy shots," the MSU coach explained. "Those are the things we emphasize in practice. Sometimes you get caught up in the emotion of the game and force some shots that hurt that statistic. Good team passing helps prevent turnovers, and when you get the ball to the right people, at the right time, in the right place, it equals more points and adds on to more assists. So I am proud of how we distributed the basketball tonight."
Another area of improvement was free throw shooting. On Thursday, MSU made 21 of 24 free throws (87.5%). Coming into the game, State ranked last in the SEC in free throw shooting at 62.5%. That percentage improved to 69.9% (fourth in the SEC) for just conference games.
"I was also proud of our free throw shooting, going 21-of-24 from the line," said Fanning. "Imesia Jackson knocked down 11-of-12 by being aggressive and getting to the line."
Perhaps the biggest mismatch on the final box score was in the rounding department. Each team had 21 defensive rebounds. But MSU dominated the offensive glass with 23 offensive rebounds that turned into 22 points. Conversely, Savannah State got just 4 offensive boards for 5 points. MSU ranks 8th in the SEC in offensive rebounds.
"All season long we have been emphasizing boards," Fanning said. "It is certainly an important part and we will continue to emphasize this all season. I think of the term 'defense wins games, and rebounding wins championships.' We will have to continue to get better at rebounding and better at positioning."
The game itself had no real turning point. State controlled the tip and never let Savannah State into the game. The Lady Bulldogs ended the first half with an 11-0 run that included a Tysheka Grimes three-pointer at the half-time buzzer allowing State to take a 43-23 advantage into the locker room.
The Lady Bulldogs continued the pressure and methodically expanded the lead to 30 points by the midway point of the second half. The 92 points scored is a season high.
While it was a win, this game was really a breather before heading into the final five SEC games.
"They are all very important," Fanning said. "We try not to look too far ahead and get into rankings and standings. We try and take it step by step, and part of that is focusing on a month-by-month basis, like we prepared for this February stretch. You just have to know that every game you play you give it all on the floor, and by doing that you should always expect to win, and at least always put yourself in a position to win. We know Florida has been playing well lately, but we have to do what we need to do and hope that we'll be in a position to win the ball game."
State travels to Florida on Sunday. The Gators (6-19, 0-10 SEC) lost at LSU on Thursday and are tied with Alabama in the cellar. After the Florida game, MSU returns to Humphrey Coliseum for games against Vanderbilt (next Thursday) and Ole Miss (a week from Sunday). Ole Miss is tied with Georgia for third place in the SEC. Vandy is in fifth place, while MSU is sixth. The top four teams in the SEC get a bye in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
After the two home games, MSU travels to Alabama and then closes out the regular season at South Carolina. The Gamecocks hold down ninth place in the league.
With so many critical games upcoming, it would be easy to overlook a non-conference opponent with a losing record. Fanning did not want a letdown. That is why she treated the Auburn loss more as a bump in the road, rather than a crucial loss.
"You have to practice hard every day and prepare hard for no matter what game, because when you begin to become complacent with things is when you will start to struggle," she said. "I believe that is what happened with us against Auburn. We passed up some shots that we would normally take that resulted in turnovers against Auburn, and when we did take shots we would miss them, and ultimately it turned into a wakeup call for us."
"We lost against Auburn because we did not go out and play like we should have," said sophomore forward Lauren Roberts. "We knew that we had to pick it back up because we are a good team. We are getting ready for Florida. It is going to be a big game for us, and it would be really good if we could come out with a win."
Roberts was one of three Lady Bulldogs to reach double digits. She scored 12 points, which is a season high and two points from her career high set against TCU last year.
But Roberts was not the star of the game. That honor belonged to Imesia Jackson who scored 25 points. It was the third time this season she eclipsed the 20-point plateau, and five points off her career high. It's the tenth time this season that the junior forward led MSU in scoring.
"She is a great player," Savannah State coach Cedric Baker said. "I like her work ethic. She really put the team on her back. She stayed put. I admire her play. She is very disciplined and most of all she gets the job done."
Alexis Rack was the other MSU player in double digits with 11 points. Other MSU scoring came from Robin Porter, Amy Reeder and Marneshia Richard. Each scored 8 points. Bethany Washington added 7 points and led all players in rebounding with 10. This was the ninth time this season that Washington led MSU in rebounding. Five other MSU players scored the remaining 13 points.
Milan Johnson led Savannah State in scoring with 21 points, followed by a 19-point effort from Shaunte Carter. Carter led her team with 7 rebounds.
Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at Andy_Kalinowski@yahoo.com.