Vanderbilt women topple MSU, 84-64

STARKVILLE, MS -- Led by a career-high 24 points from CarolineWilliams, Vanderbilt defeated the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs 84-64 Thursday night in Starkville, Mississippi. Carla Thomas added 12 points for the Dores, and Jen Risper scored 10 points. Marneshia Richard led Mississippi State with 15 points.

For the fifth game in a row, Vanderbilt jumped out to an early lead. In the first eight minutes of the game, four 3-pointers by the Dores and ten turnovers by the Lady Bulldogs led to a 20-8 Vanderbilt lead.

That was the good news for Vanderbilt. The bad news was that the Dores' aggressive defense at times was too aggressive, resulting in early foul trouble. Thomas picked up her second foul less than five minutes into the game, and midway through the first half, three of Vanderbilt's post players already had two fouls.

The Vanderbilt fouls repeatedly sent the Lady Bulldogs to the free throw line. During the first half, State scored more points from free throws than from field goals. For the entire first half, the Lady Bulldogs made only five field goals, but sank 13 of their 18 free throw attempts.

With foul trouble mounting for the starters, Vanderbilt Head coach Melanie Balcomb turned to her bench. With 7:18 left in the first half and Vanderbilt holding a 13-lead at 29-16, senior point guard Dee Davis picked up her second foul. Freshman Merideth Marsh came off the bench to lead the team to an 18-point halftime lead at 43-25.

"I thought our bench played really well again, which was very important when we got in foul trouble," Balcomb said after the game. "They played a lot of minutes in the first half, and we didn't let up at all and didn't give up the lead at all. I thought all the players that came in really did a good job and were ready to play off the bench."

That 18-point lead might sound like a comfortable margin, but the Lady Bulldogs came out of the locker room with renewed energy.

"We were very disappointed in terms of how we started the ball game; I don't think we had the look that it's going to take to compete," said Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning. "I was very pleased in the second half that we woke up and felt like we competed and became better problem-solvers."

Although the Lady Bulldogs never cut the Vanderbilt lead back to single digits, they made run after run at it. After Vanderbilt's lead reached 21 points early in the second half, State quickly cut it back to just 12 points on a jumper by Richard. When the Dores stretched it out to 19 points again at 61-42, State answered, cutting the lead back, to 13 points. Then once again Vanderbilt threatened to pull away, only to have the Lady Bulldogs cut the lead to 12 points on a pair of free throws by Alexis Rack with 4:40 left in the game.

The sparse hometown crowd hadn't had much to cheer about during the game, but as the Lady Bulldogs were making that final run, they made their voices heard. But the senior leadership for the Dores prevailed, as Thomas scored on a backdoor, then with 2:27 left tin the game Williams' sixth 3-pointer of the game was the dagger in the heart.

With Vanderbilt once again leading by 17-points and time running out, the wind finally went out of the Lady Bulldogs' sails, and the Dores inched further away. With a minute left in the game, Balcomb emptied the bench. A basket by Amber Norton and a pair of free throws by Lauren Lueders gave the Dores their biggest lead of the night of 23 points before a 3-pointer by Tysheka Grimes at the final buzzer accounted for the final score of 84-64.

With the victory, Vanderbilt improved to 22-4 overall and 8-3 in the SEC, while the Lady Bulldogs fell to 16-10 overall and 6-5 in the SEC.

Next Vanderbilt returns home to host South Carolina on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Memorial Gym. The game will feature the annual book drive for the Charles Davis Foundation. Any fans bringing a new or gently used children's book will receive free admission to the game.

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