Lady Dawgs Fall in SEC Tournament

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Poor shooting and turnovers cost Mississippi State dearly in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament. The Lady Bulldogs shot 29 percent from the field and turned the ball over 23 times in a 54-49 loss to in-state rival Mississippi.

MSU and UM met for the third time this season in the first of four opening-round games at the Sommet Center. The ninth-seeded Lady Bulldogs (16-14) lost a first-round SEC Tournament game for a fourth straight season. Meanwhile, the eighth-seeded Lady Rebels (13-15) advance to a quarterfinal match with top-seeded LSU (25-4) at noon CT Friday afternoon.

After splitting a pair of regular season games, Ole Miss took complete control of the season's rubber match with a decisive 14-2 run midway through the second half. The Lady Bulldogs actually held a 37-32 lead before the Lady Rebels reeled off that run. MSU went a total of 7:59 with only one field goal during that stretch and never could recover.

"When the game is on the line, players have to step up and make plays," MSU head coach Sharon Fanning said. "Give credit to Ole Miss for making those plays. In the second half, we were a little fatigued. That led to some missed shots and not making defensive stops."

Alexis Rack rammed home a 3-point basket with 2:51 left to play, cutting the UM lead back to 46-42. As the game clock hit the minute mark, Marneshia Richard missed a fast-break layup attempt, which would have cut the lead to two. The lead did get to two at 51-49 when Rack rammed home another 3-point basket with 21 seconds left. Ole Miss hit 3 of 4 free throws from there to seal the deal.

"Ole Miss made the free throws there at the end," Fanning said. "We missed out on a chance to have a nice lead in the first half. Being unable to open that lead early there hurt us in the end."

The contest was close throughout. In the opening half, the teams were tied four times before MSU opened up the game's biggest lead - at 23-15 with 5:35 left before halftime. The Lady Bulldogs also faltered to end this half, managing only one field goal the rest of the way. Still, MSU led 25-24 at the intermission.

"In the first half, we missed too many free throws," Fanning said. "That's how a 5- and 6-point lead becomes a 10-point lead. We also lost some defensive focus there at the end of the half. We have to learn how to play for 40 minutes. We can't take possessions off. Losing focus hurt us at the end of both halves."

In the final half, the lead changed hands a couple of times before MSU pieced together an 8-0 run for the 37-32 lead with 10:50 left to play. From there, Ole Miss found its second gear and eased to victory.

For the contest, the Lady Bulldogs converted only 19 of 65 shots for 29 percent shooting. MSU finished 3 of 25 from 3-point range, including two makes by Rack in the final 2:51. The Lady Bulldogs were 8 of 13 from the foul line for 62 percent.

Ole Miss also struggled from the field. The Lady Rebels were 19 of 58 from the field for 33 percent. Ole Miss was 4 of 16 from 3-point range and 12 of 22 at the foul line for 55 percent.

The Lady Bulldogs held a 52-40 rebounding advantage. However, MSU turned the ball over 23 times and only dished out 10 assists. Ole Miss scored 16 points off the MSU turnovers.

Individually, Tysheka Grimes had her sixth career double-double for MSU. Grimes finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Donnisha Tate also had a solid outing with seven points and 10 rebounds, seven of which came in the first half. Rack led all MSU scorers with 13 points.

Bianca Thomas led Ole Miss with 18 points, Danetra Forrest and Carla Bartee each had nine rebounds to pace the Lady Rebels.

Now, the Lady Bulldogs return home, hopeful for a return trip to the Women's National Invitational Tournament. A year ago, MSU advanced to the third round of the WNIT.

"The Women's NIT is something that we really want to do," Fanning said. "When you have a young team, you like to play games and get the experience. Several teams (in the SEC Tournament) are playing to get into the postseason. Most likely, 3 or 4 teams from our league will make the WNIT. We are hoping we can keep playing."

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