STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State saved its best basketball for when it mattered most Sunday afternoon.
Playing an overtime session for a third time this season, the Bulldogs had the better finishing kick as MSU knocked off in-state rival Ole Miss 72-70 in a Southeastern Conference contest played before a crowd of 3,155 – ninth largest in the history of Humphrey Coliseum.
MSU rallied from a 13-point deficit to earn a season split with the archrival for a second straight year. MSU improved to 18-10 overall and 5-9 in league play, while Ole Miss fell to 10-18 and 1-13.
“It was one heck of a game,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “Any Mississippi State fan with a pulse knows the importance of playing the school up north and beating their butts. I think the biggest key today was the crowd. It really got us going. There was some tremendous energy in the building today.
“It’s a great day to be a Bulldog.”
In a battle of the two league’s premier players, neither disappointed. Valencia McFarland of Ole Miss led all scorers with 29 points. Schaefer said another key to the game was the defense of Savannah Carter on McFarland in the second half.
For MSU, Martha Alwal matched a career high with 25 points and set a career high with 23 rebounds, which included 11 offensive boards.
“This is the type of game that Martha is capable of,” Schaefer said. “We challenge her every game to go out and get 20 rebounds. We had been really working hard this week because we knew this was a game in which she could have that type of performance.”
Alwal said her coach’s motivation helped inspire the breakout performance, which goes down as her ninth double-double of the season and 28th of her career, the most among active SEC players. The 23 rebounds are the most by an SEC player in a single game this season and are fourth most in school history.
“I knew it was a team smaller than I was so I just tried to go out there and dominate,” Alwal said. “In the past, I have taken some plays off, so I tried to not do that tonight. I just wanted to concentrate and really play as well as I could.”
Ole Miss hit three 3-point baskets early and quickly built a 16-8 lead.
The Bulldogs eventually kicked it in gear and used a 9-2 run to pull within 18-17 after a jumper by Alwal with 12:00 left in the half.
Ole Miss reestablished a 30-21 lead with 6:34 left before halftime. A 3-point basket by Carter brought the Bulldogs back within 32-29.
A 3-point basket by McFarland ran the Ole Miss advantage to 42-35 at halftime.
Ole Miss continued the strong play to start the second half and ran the lead to 55-42 with 13:25 left in regulation.
“Basically, it was during one of the timeouts when I asked the girls if they had had enough,” Schaefer said. “I told them when they had had enough was when we were going to get back in the game. It says a lot about the competitive nature and resiliency of this team. Even on what was obviously not their best night, they kept competing and found a way to win.”
With the crowd at their side, the Bulldogs did indeed roar back. MSU pulled within five on a 3-pointer by Dominique Dillingham. The Bulldogs were within one on a Jerica James jumper at 62-61 with 5:38 left.
Down 64-61, the Bulldogs surged ahead with seven straight points. Two free throws by Breanna Richardson gave the Maroon and White their first lead since 4-2 at 66-64. Alwal followed with two free throws.
Still, a basket by Tia Faleru with 49 seconds left in regulation tied the contest and sent it into overtime.
“It was our third overtime game and we had lost the first two,” Carter said. “So I felt like it was our time to come out and win one of those.”
The Bulldogs did just that. Alwal scored a jumper in the lane to put the team ahead for good with 3:58 left in the extra period. Dillingham also scored in the extra period to push the lead to four.
Still, Ole Miss had the final shot in overtime as it did in regulation but an off-balanced 3-point attempt by Gracie Frizzell fell short.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 23 of 68 shots from the field (33.8 percent), 5 of 15 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 21 of 25 shots from the foul line (84.0 percent). The Rebels hit 26 of 65 shots from the field (40.0 percent),
Carter finished with 10 points for MSU. Faleru finished with 19 points for Ole Miss.MSU hosts Kentucky at 7 p.m. Thursday in its final home game of the season. Senior Night festivities for Candace Foster and Katia May will be held prior to the contest.