But the win over a Bulldog squad whose only setback to then was by seven points at #15-ranked Maryland was as big as anything the Musketeers had done all year. And the loss was more than merely disappointing for Fanning and team alike. "They outrebounded us, they got the free throws, they did the little things that we didn't do," said guard Alexis Rack.
Xavier also out-shot State, but only just. While the home-court team was a miserable 13-of-53 from their own floor, the Muskies had the same total of field goals on four fewer attempts or 26.5% overall. It wasn't a lot better on long-range shooting either as XU hit 3 of 13 tries; the Bulldogs just 1 of 16. Still this only magnified to Fanning how the visitors handled offensive adversity better than State.
"We held them to 27%, but in the second half when we didn't score it seemed we lost focus and intensity," Fanning said.
Even the bright State spots didn't shine so much. Forward Chanel Mokango led the Dogs with 17 points, and blocked five shots. But she was only 6-of-15 shooting herself, and managed two total rebounds in 35 minutes when there was no lack of missed shots to chase. Rack had MSU's lone trey but was 4-of-13 overall for her 15 points. The other eight Dogs who saw action mustered just ten points between them.
Xavier got 22 points from guard Tudy Reed, including the game's crucial baskets, and ten more from Ta'Shia Phillips who also muscled for 15 rebounds. Forward April Phillips grabbed 13 more rebounds as Xavier held a 47-35 margin on the boards. And boardwork was very much on Fanning's mind, particularly her team's failure on the offensive glass.
"We didn't have Chanel with an offensive rebound," the coach noted. "We didn't have Armelie Lumanu, Tysheka Grimes, or a backup post with an offensive rebound. That's just unacceptable. The other thing was shot selection, they were letting us play 1-on-1 in the post but we took a shot over the post." Shots that usually missed, too.
While the Bulldogs did get on the board first, with a basket by Mokango, the visitors were able to can a couple of three-pointers and push ahead 10-5 at 14:38. And that was the ‘hottest' offensive stretch by either side this grueling afternoon, as it would be three points before anyone else scored anything. State forward Mary Kathryn Govero canned consecutive jumpers and as Xavier went cold the Dogs scrambled back to take a 18-17 lead at 2:08 on Mokango free throws.
When Xavier threw away an inbounds pass Rack was able to convert the loose ball into a layup, foul, and three-point play. The Musketeers missed three chances before halftime so State had a 21-19 lead in the locker room. But Fanning wasn't comfortable with things. "I did not feel at halftime we had the right mindset. Because we surely didn't get ready in the second half."
Thus three minutes into the period the visitors were back in front 24-23, and would never lose the lead. Xavier was able to spread State's offense out and force longer shots than Fanning wanted, as well as slow Dog attempts to get any transition going. The result was no MSU points from 18:53, when Mokango hit a jumper, to 11:25 when she did it again. In that span the Muskies mustered 13 of their own points, and when Jerri Taylor hit two free chances the scoreboard read 35-25 in their favor.
The Dogs weren't done yet. Mokango took charge by hitting consecutive jumpers and powering for a layup and foul-shot at 9:03 to make it a 35-30 deficit. The comeback slowed as four ensuing series produced as many misses, all from the perimeter. Xavier did no better, until Reed put up a quick one from the corner that hit. But when Rack hit her own trey at 5:32 it was a 38-35 scoreboard.
The next three minutes saw swaps of free throws and a 42-38 count by 2:29 after forward Robin Porter hit one chance. But on the inbounds Xavier's Reed got behind the MSU press across midcourt and not only ran out for a reverse layup but drew the foul. The bonus free shot made it a seven-point margin at 2:24, and Xavier wouldn't need any other buckets. Foul chances allowed them to keep a comfortable cushion, with State getting no closer than five points.
Fanning complimented the Musketeers for taking advantage of their bulk inside and athletic guards, but laid the Bulldog blame on lack of intensity for the full forty minutes in a matchup that was MSU's to win. And the second-half response to continued offensive frustration—which Xavier handled better—was her real issue.
"You either fight back or you break down," Fanning said. "It has to be 40 minutes of work, focus, communication if you're going to win big games. We'll try to do a better job teaching, and they've got to do a better job getting ready."
The Bulldogs will have to do much better the next time out, because this week opens the conference schedule and State has drawn #18-ranked Florida for an opening foe 6:00 Thursday evening in Gainesville…though of course few in that town will be watching anything but the B.C.S. Championship Game. Still the Dogs can't count on a diluted home-court atmosphere to help them make shots and grab rebounds; that they must do for themselves.
"We've got to put this behind us and get ready to play the SEC games," Rack said.