PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico - Martha Alwal posted her third double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Kendra Grant also scored 19 points as Mississippi State fell 64-56 to Central Florida in the final game of the Hardwood Tournament of Hope in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Alwal and Grant, both sophomores, combined to hit 12-of-25 shots from the field, including 13-of-17 shots from the foul line.
In the tournament, Alwal and Grant averaged 17.3 and 12.7 ppg, respectively. Alwal also hauled in 9.7 rebounds per contest while blocking 1.7 shots over the three games.
"Both Kendra and Martha played 39 minutes today. When they are on and playing well, it is so obvious. For us as coaches, we see things they can continue to work on to be even better players," head coach Vic Schaefer said. "They have played a lot of minutes over three games, and we're proud of the way they gutted it out.
"We've had some kids affected by illness every game this trip, but I'm proud of the way they have been resilient and tried to fight through it," Schaefer added. "We haven't always played well, but we've played hard all three days. With this group, I'm very proud of them for that."
In the Thanksgiving Day contest, the Bulldogs (2-4) struggled out of the gate with early turnover troubles. MSU gave away possession five times, as Central Florida scored the game's first 11 points. The Bulldogs slowly answered with the game's next nine points, including six by Alwal.
MSU closed within one on two occasions before a layup by Andrea Hines capped a 9-2 run for Central Florida. That spurt pushed the Golden Knights to a 25-17 advantage.
The Bulldogs trailed by four on two more occasions before Central Florida eased out to a 30-23 advantage at halftime.
MSU posted its highest first-half shooting percentage, 47.8 percent, but was plagued by 12 turnovers.
Central Florida scored the first eight points of the second half to extend the advantage to 38-23 advantage. The Bulldogs broke the scoring drought with an Alwal free throw, and MSU closed within 41-29 on a 3-point play by Grant.
With 8:58 remaining, Grant hit two free throws to pull MSU within 10 at 45-35. Falling down again by as many 15, the resilient Bulldogs made one final push. A 3-pointer by Jerica James brought MSU within 57-51, and a trey by Grant made it 59-54 with 2:19 left.
UCF, however, answered with a 3-point play by Erika Jones to push the lead to eight, 62-54.
Darriel Gaynor scored a driving layup to cut it the score to six with 1:33 left, but the Golden Knights added a pair of free throws to clinch the win.
"I was proud of the kids. They played hard and showed resilience today. We finally got into a little bit of a rhythm offensively in the second half, something that has been a struggle for us all year," Schaefer said. "Rebounding continues to be a thorn in our side, but hopefully after a trip like this we can fix some things with a couple days of practice before we play Wednesday."
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 20 of 52 shots from the field (38.5 percent), 2 of 12 shots from 3-point range (16.7 percent) and 14 of 19 shots from the foul line (73.7 percent). The Golden Knights hit 22 of 57 shots from the field (38.6 percent), 6 of 16 shots from 3-point range (37.5 percent) and 14 of 23 shots from the foul line (60.9 percent).
Central Florida held a 39-34 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had nine assists and 19 turnovers, while the Golden Knights had 16 assists and 16 turnovers.
The Golden Knights received 17 points from Gevenia Carter and 13 from Kayli Keough.
MSU returns home to host Savannah State at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Humphrey Coliseum.