Tip-off! Vanderbilt's last three trips to Humphrey Coliseum, aka "The Hump", had ended in L's. On the last trip, the Commodores trailed by three with 10 seconds left in the game, executed a final play for a 3-point shot, but the shot didn't fall.
The Commodores jumped out to an 11-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game and led the entire first half. Then Mississippi State's 3-point shooters came to life and by halftime, the Vanderbilt lead was only four points at 36-32.
Sophomore post Carla Thomas, who scored twelve points in the first half, ended the game with 33 points and 17 rebounds.
In the second half, the game turned into a barn burner, with the Lady Bulldogs taking their first lead of the game at 53-52 with eight minutes left. From that point on, it was a see-saw battle with two lead changes and four ties in the last five minutes of the game.
With 5.3 seconds left on the game clock, and Mississippi State leading 74-72, Dee Davis took the ball out-of-bounds. She found Ashley Earley on the inbounds play, and the senior converted to tie the game 74-74. Overtime!
Tipoff! It's deja vu all over again! The overtime period got off to a rocky start for the Commodores. A 3-pointer from Nashville native Tiania Burns, a jumper by Mamie McKinney, and a 3-pointer from Tan White gave the Lady Bulldogs an 8-point lead at 82-72 with 3:24 left in the game.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb called a 30-second timeout. "I just wanted to settle them down and look in their eyes and tell them it was okay and that we could still execute, we could still score," she said after the game.
Soon afterwards, senior guard Abi Ramsey fouled out of the game, with Vanderbilt trailing 82-77. For the rest of the game, she'd cheer the team on from the bench.
With 1:03 left in the overtime period, the Commodores trailed by seven points at 89-82 despite a clutch 3-pointer from sophomore guard Cherish Stringfield.
The Commodores were forced to begin fouling, "Dee Davis just ran everything I asked her to run, held everybody together, and yet she's not the one who made all the plays," Balcomb said. "Different kids stepped up and made a play each time, but she really held her composure . . . I just told them that they had to get stops, and then we had to run quick hitters and score right away and then foul right away."
Ten seconds later, sophomore guard Caroline Williams nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to four points, then immediately fouled White. White made one free throw, but missed the second. Then Williams hit another 3-pointer to cut the lead to just two points at 90-88 with 43 seconds left.
In the midst of the excitement, someone noticed blood on Earley's legs, and she had to leave the game so trainer Michele Loftus could apply bandages. When she returned, the Commodores trailed by three points at 93-90 with 26 seconds left.
Then Davis tied the game on yet another clutch 3-pointer by the Commodores. Earley fouled White, who sank both of her free throws to give the Lady Bulldogs a two-point lead with 10 seconds remaining.
Once again, Vanderbilt stepped up to the challenge. This time it was Thomas who kept the Commodores in the game by sinking a jumper as time expired to tie the game at 95-95 and to force a second overtime period.
In the second overtime period, Vanderbilt began to take control. MSU's only points of the period came on a 3-pointer from White. The Commodores took a 5-point lead at 103-98 with 1:13 left in the game, and the Lady Bulldogs were forced to foul.
But the strategy that had saved the game for Vanderbilt in the first overtime period didn't turn work for the Lady Bulldogs. Davis sank three of four free throws, and the Commodore defense was able to get much-needed stops, sealing the 106-98 victory.
Mississippi State's Tan White scored 47 points for the Lady Bulldogs, one short of the school record set by Latoya Thomas. But it was the highest point total scored in college basketball so far this season. "Tan did a great job," said Balcomb. "We couldn't stop her."
"I know this is a very over-used word by coaches," Balcomb said in the postgame press conference, "but I'm just really proud of the effort we made as a team when we got down by eight with a little over three minutes to go in the first overtime.
"I think it was a great game. Both teams fought very hard, and it's tough to even have a loser in this game."
Afterwards, family, fans, and friends greeted the tired but happy team as they headed for the team bus for the ride to the airport.
After four weeks in the grueling SEC schedule with four consecutive Thursday night games, the exhausted players will enjoy an open day on Sunday before resuming action on Thursday at home as they host Auburn.
Photographs copyright 2005 by WhitneyD for Vandymania.com.