STARKVILLE, Miss. –Mississippi State’s valiant effort came up short Thursday night.
The Bulldogs played spirited and hard and carried the nation’s 10th-ranked team to the wire.
In the end, Tennessee proved too much as it made 11 of its final 14 shots from the field to post a 67-63 Southeastern Conference victory before a season-best 3,169 at Humphrey Coliseum. It was the eighth largest crowd in MSU women’s basketball history, and the largest since a 2010 contest against the Lady Vols.
Tennessee improved to 14-3 overall and 3-2 in league play, while MSU fell to 14-4 and 1-3.
“It was a heck of a basketball game,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “There is no one here satisfied about the outcome. We came to play. We had a game plan. The team played their tails off the entire night. A year ago, it was 88-45 in Knoxville, Tenn.
“We have come a little ways since then. However, our expectations are a little bit different. So we are disappointed. I am proud of our competitive spirit and some of the tough shots made. This league is about players. These kids tonight made plays.”
Tennessee built an early 16-6 lead thanks to an 8-0 run. MSU would fall down by 12 points before mounting a rally. The Bulldogs responded with eight straight points. A basket by Martha Alwal capped the run and brought the score within 20-16.
The Bulldogs were within three at 26-23 on a jumper by Jerica James as the first half expired. Tennessee was plagued by 13 first-half turnovers.
“It’s disappointing how close we were because we had a taste,” MSU senior guard Katia May said. “We had our chances, so it’s disappointing. We know how hard we played. We competed, but it is not just enough to compete.”
Tennessee quickly reestablished a seven-point lead at 34-27 in the early stages of the second half. Still, MSU continued to battle, as Kendra Grant came off the bench and scored 14 of her game-high 21 points in the game’s final half.
The Bulldogs closed within three at 36-33, 41-38 and 50-47. However, MSU never could get the critical stop in transition or hit the equalizing basket.
“I have a lot of confidence in these kids,” Schaefer said. “Because I am watching them grow up right front of my eyes. They are buying what we are selling. There is no one who could walk out of the Hump tonight and say that is not the hardest-working women’s basketball team we have ever seen play.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 25 of 62 shots from the field (40.3 percent), 6 of 18 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 7 of 12 shots from the foul line (58.3 percent). The Lady Volunteers hit 24 of 49 shots from the field (49.0 percent), 1 of 7 shots from 3-point range (14.3 percent) and 18 of 25 shots from the foul line (72.0 percent).
Tennessee held a 35-31 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 11 assists and 16 turnovers, while the Lady Volunteers had 16 assists and 22 turnovers.
May added 14 points and Alwal added 10 points for the Bulldogs. Alwal also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds, barely missing the double-double.
Tennessee received 13 points apiece from Ariel Massengale and Bashaara Graves. Isabelle Harrison added 10 points.MSU returns to the road Sunday for a 2 p.m. start at Texas A&M. It will be the first game back in College Station for head coach Vic Schaefer and staff members Johnnie Harris, Aqua Franklin, Maryann Baker and Skylar Collins.