"I think it always starts with the top, and I really took a hard look at what I needed to change," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game. "I needed to challenge this team, and I also needed to listen to the players. I met with two players, I listened, and then I challenged the team, yesterday, especially this morning and in pre-game."
Apparently, it worked. After struggling on offense for the past two games, averaging 45 points while shooting 34% from the field and 59% from the free throw line, Vanderbilt had a complete turnaround. The offense generated 78 points, the highest of the season, while the team shot 63% from the field against the team with the best field goal percentage defense in the SEC coming into the game. Vanderbilt repeatedly attacked the basket, resulting in repeated trips to the free throw line where the Dores connected on 79% of their foul shots.
The team was equally effective on the defensive end of the court. Coming into the game, the Bulldogs were the highest scoring team in the SEC averaging 81.1 points per game. On Sunday afternoon, they were held to 62 points, nearly 20 points below their season average.
Vanderbilt controlled the game from the opening tip, taking the lead early on baskets by Heather Bowe and Rebekah Dahlman and held the lead for the entirety of the game. Mississippi State didn't made a field goal for the first eight minutes of the game when a basket by Martha Alwal trimmed the Vanderbilt lead to 11 points at 16-5.
Before the first half was over, the Bulldogs closed to within three points, but Vanderbilt held them off and took at 10-point lead ad 34-24 into the locker room.
Throughout most of the second half, Vanderbil continud to lead by double digits, although on several occasions, State was able to cut the lead down to seven points. But each time, Vanderbilt stopped the run and re-built the lead. In the end, it came down to making free throws, and in the final two minutes of the game the Dores only missed one free throw out of nine attempts to seal the 78-62 victory.
Vanderbilt was led in scoring by Morgan Batey, who tied her career high with 18 points. Rebekah Dahlman and Heather Bowe scored 17 points each, and Rachel Bell scored 12. Batey was also leading rebounder with 10 boards. Dahlman and Jasmine Jenkins each had five assists.
Next, Vanderbilt takes a break from the SEC schedule when Alabama-Huntsville comes to visit on Thursday night at 7 p.m. Conference play resumes for Vanderbilt with a road trip to Georgia on Sunday before returning home to host Arkansas on Thursday night January 22.
Mississippi State Coach Vic Schaefer
Photos copyright 2015 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com