STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer really liked his team's defensive effort Friday night.
The Bulldogs made two stops in the final 1:12 of regulation time as MSU held off Florida Atlantic 59-58 in the Humphrey Coliseum.
"I am really proud that we persevered," Schaefer said. "We made some defensive stops when we had to. After losing a couple of games earlier this year on defense, I am really proud we found a way to win one with our defense."
Florida Atlantic's Morgan Robinson missed an off-balanced 22-foot 3-point attempt in the waning seconds. MSU had to guard for basically the final minute as the Owls missed the front end of a one-plus-one before getting a steal to earn one final possession.
"The girls really competed throughout the entire game," Schaefer said. "That is what you are most proud of as a coach. In the second half, I thought we did a really great job of taking the game plan to the floor and executing. We did a great job of doing what we were trying to do."
FAU led by as many as six, while MSU led by as many as seven. The score was tied five times and the lead changed hands 10 times. The Bulldogs found themselves in a battle, thanks in large part to a season-high 35 turnovers.
"A lot of those were unforced errors," Schaefer said. "We have a one-on-one situation and lose possession. It's not like we aren't working every day in practice to take better care of the ball. If we get that number down to around 20 tonight, we are looking at a different game."
MSU did not attempt a 3-point shot in the contest and enjoyed a plus-17 advantage on the boards.
"We knew we had a size advantage," Schaefer said. "So basically, we wanted to pound the ball inside. Our high-low game was really good. Defensively, we cause some problems with our size. Martha Alwal has seven blocks and Sherise Williams adds four more."
"Coach was big on using our post players because we had a mismatch," Alwal said.
Still, the contest was in doubt from the opening tip.
The Bulldogs scored the game's first four points and eventually stretched the lead to 21-14 on a jumper by Darriel Gaynor with 9:46 left in the half.
The Owls later reeled off six straight to pull within a single point. The Bulldogs built the lead back to 27-22 on a free throw by Jessy Ward.
Mississippi State pushed the lead to six before a half-ending 12-2 run gave the Owls a 36-32 lead at halftime.
In the opening half, Takia Brooks led the Owls with 16 points. The Bulldogs had 10 assists and six blocks but were plagued by 18 turnovers.
State's defense stepped up in the second half, holding the Owls to 23.1-percent-shooting. Led by ferocious defending from junior Candace Foster, the Bulldogs limited Brooks to 11 points in the final stanza.
"When made adjustments at halftime, and when we made them, it worked in our favor," Sherise Williams said of the second-half effort.
The Owls stretched the lead to six with a basket to start the second half, but MSU quickly caught up and tied the game 41-41 on a layup by Katia May. The lead would again switch hands a couple of times before MSU scored seven straight to open a 55-49 advantage with 4:34 left.
From there, good defense was the key as Kendra Grant drew a critical charge and Alwal had a big block.
"I needed it because I had back-to-back turnovers," Grant said of the charge. "I needed that for myself and for the team."
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 23 of 46 shots from the field for a season-best 50.0 percent and 13 of 21 shots from the foul line (61.9 percent). The Owls hit 22 of 75 shots from the field (29.3 percent), 7 of 26 shots from 3-point range (26.9 percent) and 7 of 11 shots from the foul line (63.6 percent). MSU did not attempt a 3-point shot in the contest.
MSU held a 50-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 15 assists and 35 turnovers, while the Owls had 11 assists and 15 turnovers.
Williams paced MSU with a career high 15 points. In addition to her season-high seven blocks, Alwal had her fourth double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Grant and Carnecia Williams each added 10 points.
Brooks led FAU with 27 points.
After a break for final examinations, the Bulldogs resume their five-game homestand with a 2 p.m. start Dec. 16 against Florida A&M.