STARKVILLE, Miss. -Mississippi State found its toughness at the right time Friday night.
Sophomore Kendra Grant scored 20 points, two shy of her career high, and senior Darriel Gaynor added 11 as the Bulldogs rallied from down 12 points in the second half to post a 57-55 victory over Louisiana Tech Friday night at the Humphrey Coliseum.
"When it comes down to the end of game, we have to have our toughness," Grant, who scored 14 of her points in the second half, said. "We knew that toughness and rebounding were going to be the keys if we were to come back."
MSU coach Vic Schaefer was not pleased with his team's toughness in Monday night's 56-48 loss against Hampton, but the Bulldogs' new mentor thought a 180-degree turnaround by his squad in that department proved a key to the victory.
"It is going to be tough for us to score some nights," Schaefer said. "That is why toughness is so important. I am really proud of my kids. We really out-toughed them in the second half. When we played tougher, we got to the basket more. We drew fouls and took advantage of our chances."
Gaynor hit the game-winning shot on a baseline jumper with 52 seconds left in regulation. The Bulldogs then got the critical stop on the defensive end as Kelia Shelton committed a charging foul.
MSU was unable to score on its final possession but Louisiana Tech could not either. Brittany Lewis missed a heavily-contested 3-point shot as time expired for the Lady Techsters.
"We really picked up the defensive intensity in the second half," Gaynor said. "Our goal is to stop, score, stop. We didn't play as hard as we needed to on the defensive end in the first half. We picked up the pace and that allowed us to get back into the game."
The Maroon and White only had two first-half leads. Louisiana Tech scored seven-straight points to build an early 10-5 lead. A 3-pointer by Gaynor brought MSU within 17-16 with 7:04 left in the half, but Louisiana Tech responded with the game's next six points.
The Lady Techsters shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and led 33-23 at halftime.
"We challenged our kids to take the ball to the goal more in the second half," Schaefer said. "I thought we were the more aggressive team in the second half. I thought we did a better job of taking better shots. We rode Kendra (Grant). We told her before the game we were going to ride her."
The Bulldogs fell down 12 points at 37-25 before beginning their rally. A big reason for the comeback was a 45.2-percent field-goal percentage over the final 20 minutes. It was the best half shooting the basketball by a Bulldog squad since last season's team shot 53.1-percent in the second half to knock off Auburn.
A jumper by Katia May brought the Maroon and White within 38-33 with 13:59 left in the contest.
MSU still trailed 46-40 before taking its first second-half lead with eight straight points. A layup by Grant pushed the Maroon and White on top 48-46 with 7:33 left.
Things stayed nip-and-tuck, with the Bulldogs finally pushing to a two-point lead again at 55-53 when Martha Alwal scored and drew a foul with 1:47 left. Schaefer called that score "the biggest basket in the game" despite Alwal not completing the 3-point play.
Lewis tied the contest for Louisiana Tech with a basket at the 1:24 mark, paving the way for Gaynor's go-ahead shot on the other end of the floor.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 22 of 61 shots from the field (36.1 percent), 3 of 8 shots from 3-point range (37.5 percent) and 10 of 17 shots from the foul line (58.8 percent). The Lady Techsters hit 20 of 47 shots from the field (42.6 percent), 1 of 5 shots from 3-point range (20.0 percent) and 14 of 22 shots from the foul line (63.6 percent).
Louisiana Tech held a 44-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 11 assists and a season-low 13 turnovers, while the Lady Techsters had 13 assists and 23 turnovers. MSU forced its opponents into 20 or more turnovers for the second-straight game.
Gaynor added 11 points, five rebounds and four steals for MSU.
Louisiana Tech received a double-double from Lewis (20 points, 10 rebounds) and 14 points from Kelia Shelton.
MSU hits the road for the first time this season with a trip to Hardwood Tournament of Hope at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The Bulldogs open action against Winthrop at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
MSU returns home for a 7 p.m. start against Savannah State on Nov. 28.