Vanderbilt Loses in Starkville, 66-61

STARKVILLE -- Sixteen points from Tina Wirth and 13 from Merideth Marsh weren't enough to overcome a slow start as Vanderbilt fell to the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Thursday night. Twenty-seven turnovers by the Commodores tied a season high and were a key factor in the loss.

Every team wants to make a statement in the first few minutes of the game to set the tone for the rest of the game. On Thursday night in Starkville, Mississippi State was the team that made the statement. The first twp minutes of the game were close to perfect for the Bulldogs, as they were 3-for-3 from the field, with three assists, two steals, and the only available rebound when Vanderbilt missed a shot.

State couldn't maintain that standard of excellence for an entire 40 minutes, but the Bulldogs' aggression on both ends of the court set the Dores back on their heels. The entire first half was a game of cat-and-mouse with Vanderbilt threatening to make a run, with MSU responding, then MSU threatening to pull away and Vanderbilt responding. When halftime rolled around, the Bulldogs held a seven-point lead at 33-26, virtually the same margin as at the end of the fateful first two minutes of the game.

The second half started in much the same way as the first half, with Vanderbilt missing shots and turning the ball over, and State getting steals and making shots. The Bulldogs' 5-0 run to start the half gave them a double-digit lead at 38-26.

But then Vanderbilt began to scratch their way back into the game. Midway through the half a 3-pointer by Lauren Lueders gave the Dores their first lead of the game by 42-41.

Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, however, that also turned out to be their last lead of the game. After a couple of ties, the Bulldogs began to pull slowly ahead once more, The Dores closed the gap to two points at 58-56 with 1:18 left to play in the game on a pair of made free throws by Jen Risper. But on the other end of the court, Robin Porter answered with a basket to restore the lead to four points.

Soon Vanderbilt was forced to foul. Fortunately for Mississippi State and unfortunately for Vanderbilt, in those waning seconds the Bulldogs were a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line, sealing the victory for the home team.

With the victory Vanderbilt falls to 17-6 overall and 6-2 in the SEC. Next action is on Sunday in Lexington, Kentucky. The next game in Memorial Gym will on Thursday night when the Florida Gators visit at 12 p.m.

Coach Balcomb's post-game comments:

The Press: You tied a season-high with 27 turnovers. I don't know if that first couple of minutes set the tone, but that didn't really look like a Vanderbilt team that a lot of people are accustomed to seeing. I don't mean to use that as an excuse, but did you feel like that set the tone for what transpired?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah. It got them running and got the tempo exactly where they wanted it. We didn't take care of the basketball, and we didn't check out, and those are the two things we needed to do. We did a better job in the second half, but once you get yourself into a hole like that and you let teams on the road believe they can win, when we did tie it, they came right back and got five straight. We mentally made poor decisions. Our other key was not fouling them, not bailing them out, and we bailed them out in key situations. So, yeah, we didn't execute our game plan which – I'll take that as a compliment that Vanderbilt teams usually do – but we did not, and it was very frustrating on our end.

To give Mississippi State credit, they came out really pressuring, denying, really forced us out of our timing, and I think that's why, in the second half especially, [we had] turnovers in the post because we hesitated so much because they did a great job taking us out of our timing. They were very, very aggressive and dictated on defense, which we did not do on defense. We didn't dictate; we got attacked. We played as poorly on both ends of the floor, not just on offense. We played really poorly on defense as well. We didn't take them out of anything. We didn't dictate them. We were on our heels all night. They dictated us. They beat us on both ends of the floor. The positive is we fought back and tied the game, but then they came right back because they had that confidence.

The Press: Coach Fanning has talked a lot about her team finishing. It was one of those nailbiters; you came back and took the lead, but then they responded, and they haven't always done that. What did you see in them tonight that may have allowed them to respond tonight when they got counter-punched?

Coach Balcomb: To be honest, I wasn't really watching them. I was watching us miss 3's and trying to watch whether we were fighting back. I think we crashed the offensive board and got 'em and tried to kick out for 3's and had shooters spotting up. At the end of the game, it was a 3 or 4 point game, and they just left Tina Wirth wide open, and we didn't make the shots. Merideth didn't make shots; Tina didn't make shots. We had shots on offense down the stretch, but – I think moreso did [MSU] do well defensively; they had big shots offensively. Porter hit a big shot. I think on offense they showed more patience than they probably did on film watching them. They took real quick shots. But I think it all starts at the beginning, like you said, when you give a team confidence at home at their place, that they believe, if they're going to hold the lead for that long, it's tough, they're going to fight back, and everybody in this conference is going to. I think it's mental. And they had that confidence they probably didn't have in some of the other games.

The Press: What kind of things did you talk to your team about in the locker room after the game?

Coach Balcomb:Just trying to challenge them. Trying to challenge them to practice. We've been turning the ball over in practice; we've been missing layups in practice. We've been struggling practicing and having that sense of urgency and getting better every day, which is one of the things that we're known for, is improving as the season goes on. We practiced great after we lost to Georgia and came back and won a game on the road against South Carolina because we were upset and mad. But we haven't practiced that way since. We've played two good games; we're playing very well at home, but to come on the road, you needed two good practices. So I really challenged the way they're preparing in practice for these games, and what to prepare.

The Press: Are you going to have time to practice before your upcoming road game on Sunday?

Coach Balcomb: Oh yeah, we'll practice. We'll have two practices, two really good ones.

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