ESTERO, Fla. – An 11-2 run to the end the first half provided the necessary separation as Mississippi State beat Grand Canyon 71-62 Friday night in the opening round of the Gulf Coast Showcase women’s basketball tournament.
With the win, MSU improved to 6-0 and will face James Madison, a 77-67 winner against UCLA, at 7:30 p.m. CT in Saturday’s semifinal round.
Martha Alwal led the Bulldogs with a career-high 25 points. Her offensive performance was key as she picked up the slack left by Kendra Grant and Savannah Carter, who were plagued with heavy foul trouble in the contest.
“I am proud of our kids,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “Grand Canyon is well coached. They have eight seniors. That is a veteran team. They expose you in a lot of areas. They made us better and we learned a little bit about ourselves.
“I am proud of our kids for preserving through a really bad first half. Martha was sensational offensively, and Dominique Dillingham bailed us out again in 34 minutes.”
After a tight first couple of minutes, the Bulldogs were able to build a 14-8 lead on a Brianna Richardson layup. MSU still led 18-12 before Grand Canyon responded with six straight points to tie the contest.
The Antelopes built their largest lead at 29-22 with 3:39 left before halftime. MSU responded with an 11-2 run to take a 33-31 lead at the intermission.
In the opening half, the Bulldogs got 17 points from bench players.
“Our point guards were awfully good tonight,” Schaefer said. “We were 2-of-3 from one of them (Jerica James) and 7-of-9 with the other one (Katia May). They did a tremendous job. We were 9-for-12 there and 2-of-2 from 3.
“Martha was a warrior. She went 37 minutes.”
Grand Canyon (5-1) built two early three-point second-half leads before MSU took over for good. Four straight free throws by Alwal placed the Maroon and White on top 42-41 with 16:05 left. The Bulldogs would eventually score 12 straight points and take a 50-41 lead on a layup by May with 13:47 left.
Grand Canyon whittled the lead down to five only to see MSU build it back out to as many as 13 at 66-53 with 4:56 left.
“The girls were a little tight, and they admitted as much postgame. That’s part of having a relatively inexperienced team,” Schaefer said. “You don’t like minus-13 on the boards, because that is simply an energy stat. I’m proud of our perseverance and how we found a way to win.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 29 of 57 shots from the field (50.9 percent), 2 of 6 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 11 of 14 shots from the foul line (78.6 percent). The Antelopes hit 20 of 53 shots from the field (37.7 percent), 4 of 11 shots from 3-point range (36.4 percent) and 18 of 23 shots from the foul line (78.3 percent).
Grand Canyon held a 40-27 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had five assists and 10 turnovers, while the Antelopes had six assists and 21 turnovers.
Grand Canyon received 18 points from Judy Jones, 14 points from Kaitlyn Petersen and 13 points from Deanna Daniels.