Mississippi State - Chanel Mokango did not have the big game I expected but she did have a good overall performance, scoring six points and pulling down nine rebounds. She also blocked a shot on the night and dished out two assist.
Ole Miss - Bianca Thomas had an off-night, shooting just 6-of-18 from the field and scoring 17 points. She also had two boards and three assists. The Lady Bulldogs slowed down Thomas, which was one of the main reasons they came away with the victory.
The Stats Don't Lie:
The stats definitely didn't lie in this game as the Lady Bulldogs dominated in virtually every category. The most glaring area in which the Lady Bulldogs dominated was field goal percentage. The Lady Bulldogs shot 43.1 percent from the field while the Lady Rebels only shot 35.7 percent. The first half shooting percentage shows an even bigger disparity with the Lady Bulldogs shooting 51.9 percent and the Lady Rebels 29.6 percent. The Lady Rebels lack of ability to hit shots in the first half is why the Lady Bulldogs were able to bust the game open early. State also outscored the Lady Rebels in another area in which they normally do not, bench scoring. The Lady 'Dogs scored 13 bench points to the Lady Rebels six points. The lone stat in which the Lady Rebels won the battle in was 2nd chance points. The stats showed why the Lady Bulldogs won - they hit shots, played good defense and played team ball.
The Lady Bulldogs were dealt a bit of a blow before the game when Coach Fanning-Otis decided that Alexis Rack was not fit to play due to an injury. But that loss seemed to bring the Lady Bulldogs together as a team.
"We had to keep our heads up and not pay attention to the loss of Alexis [Rack]," said Fanning-Otis. "If you look back, we played a lot of games without Tysheka [Grimes] which allowed us to put two or three different players in the rotation. We helped ourselves in a big way and our players came off the bench and stayed poised, which gave us a lot of help. Today, we outrebounded them, had a very powerful assist-turnover ratio and had 10 more free throws than them as well. If you take care of the ball and take really good shots, then you will be able to extend the gap and win the game."
The Lady Bulldogs had a few players step up in the absence of Rack. Tysheka Grimes, who recently returned from a similar foot injury, scored 14 points and pulled down five boards. Mary Kathryn Govero had a big night with 15 points. The player who gave the Lady Bulldogs the biggest spark was true freshman Ashley Jones who hit two threes in the first half. Jones has had a tough freshman season, playing sparingly. But with Rack's injury, Coach Fanning-Otis called her number. And the freshman responded by playing 12 key minutes of turnover free ball.
"I just play aggressive and try to do anything I can to help the team," said Jones. "If I play with confidence I know I can be successful."
These players taking on a larger role while playing sound, efficient basketball is the reason the Lady Bulldogs came away with this one. The Lady Bulldogs banded together and took it to the Lady Rebels as the game was never in doubt.
"The key difference in today's game was our aggressive play from the start," said Govero. "We did not wait and see what Ole Miss was going to do and then respond. Obviously we had to elevate our effort with Alexis (Rack) not playing, but it was a great team effort."
The Lady Bulldogs are poised for the home stretch facing Alabama, Auburn, and a tough LSU team.
"It is that time of the year and bottom line is fundamentals," said Fanning-Otis. "Just because you have played a couple of teams and beaten them, it does not mean anything. This late in the schedule makes it a whole new season and you have to keep your focus. We will have to be tough both on the road and at home. We are blessed to have Thursday off because of Alexis' injury which will give her time to rest, come back, and help us finish strong."
Player of the Game:
The player of the game, Armelie Lumanu, is a player who has not received the publicity that she truly deserves. Lumanu had 18 points while also collecting nine rebounds. She also had six assist to go along with three steals. Lumanu with her all around performances has shown herself to be the heart and soul of the Lady Bulldog team.
"She had nine rebounds, six assists, only one turnover, three steals and shot 50%," said Fanning-Otis. "That is your leader on the court and when she plays well like that, it gives energy to the rest of the team. She had a couple of key put-backs and her fast paced transition really boosts the team and can change or keep the momentum."
Jeremiah Short is a columnist who covers various Mississippi State sports for GenesPage.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org