STARKVILLE, Miss. – Martha Alwal scored 19 points and hauled in nine boards, and Kendra Grant added 13, 11 in the first half, as Mississippi State knocked off Southern Mississippi 71-61 at Humphrey Coliseum Saturday night.
The win improved the Bulldogs to 10-1 on the season, while Southern Miss fell to 6-2 overall.
The Bulldogs used tough defense, forcing 28 Golden Eagle turnovers and converting them into 27 points in a physical contest that saw the teams combine for 59 fouls.
Alwal scored 12 of her 19 points in the opening half, and Grant added 11 to lead head coach Vic Schaefer’s squad to a 42-32 halftime lead it would never relinquish.
Grant scored five points in the game’s first two minutes to give the Bulldogs an early 10-3 lead.
“I had a pretty good first half. Overall, the first half was our better half as a team,” Grant said. “It was an in-state game with both teams wanting to prove something. You could see it on the court tonight.”
Tamara Jones helped the Eagles fight back, however, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and a layup to cut the Bulldog lead to 16-14 with 13:43 to play.
“It was a great basketball game tonight. You have to give Southern Miss a lot of credit. They showed great resilience, but, on the flip side, I really love the toughness that we showed tonight,” Schaefer said. “We have been taking baby steps. This time last year we might have been on the other end of this ballgame. We were tough and forced 28 turnovers. I appreciated the competitiveness and how hard our guards played on the perimeter. It was a very competitive game on both ends, and we needed that.”
It would be the closest USM would come in the contest, however, as MSU responded with a 12-0 run over the next 3:08 to go up 28-14 with 10:35 to play.
Jones, who scored 16 of her game-high 27 points in the first half, cut the lead to four at 28-24, but MSU answered with the next six, taking a 10-point advantage on a Ketara Chapel jumper.
State extended the first-half advantage to as much as 16 with 1:21 to go before USM tallied the final six points of the half.
In the second half, Mississippi State answered every Southern Miss challenge despite going just 7-of-26 from the floor over the final 20 minutes. The Dawgs did their damage at the line, however, connecting on 14 of their 20 second-half attempts.
State kept the lead in double figures until the 4:32 mark when the Golden Eagles cut the lead to seven, 63-56, with 4:32 to play.
The Bulldogs, however, got four free throws from Dillingham, two from Carter and a bucket from Alwal to go on an 8-0 run that extended the lead to 71-56 with 1:03 remaining.
Dillingham and Richardson joined Grant and Alwal in double figures, adding 12 and 11, respectively. Dillingham went 8-for-8 at the stripe as she recorded double digits for the third-straight game.
Dillingham, who had to leave the game with a cut in the first half, scored eight of her 12 points in the second half, with six coming from the free-throw line.
“That kid (Dillingham) is pretty tough. She was bleeding everywhere, and when she finally got cleaned up, she came back out in the second half and acted like nothing had happened,” Schaefer said. “Again, this is why we recruited her. She went 8-for-8 at the free-throw line and made some big ones. You gotta love that kid.”
State shot 39 percent (23-59) from the field and 24-34 (70.6 percent) from the free-throw line. The Bulldogs claimed a 39-31 rebounding edge, including 17 offensive boards that they converted into 21 points.
The Golden Eagles shot 44.2 percent (19-43) from the field, 33.3 percent from 3-point range and 66.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Jerontay Clemons joined Jones in double figures with 17 points.
The Bulldogs hit the road for the final time in 2013 Tuesday, making the program’s first trek to North Dakota to face North Dakota State in a 7 p.m. CT tip in Fargo.