DULUTH, Ga. – Mississippi State rallied from a 15-point deficit, grabbed a lead but could not hang on Thursday at the Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Florida rallied in the closing minutes to end MSU’s run in the tournament with a 71-67 win in a second-round contest played at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
“I’d like to have the first half back,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “I think our kids would. I’m really proud of how we came out of the locker room. We came out, competed and took a lead. I loved our resilience, which is what this team has been about all year. Our second half was very, very good. We showed a lot of toughness, resilience and a competitive spirit.”
MSU (19-13) trailed by as many as 15 points in the final minute of the opening half. The Bulldogs closed within 42-29 at the intermission and turned in a strong defensive effort to get back in the contest in the final 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs closed within seven points at 48-41 on a Kendra Grant 3-point basket with 13:58 left. A steal and layup by Katia May sparked another mini-rally. Dominique Dillingham put back a Savannah Carter miss, and moments later Carter got a steal and a jumper to cut the lead to four.
Dillingham added a trey from the corner that brought the Bulldogs within three points.
MSU finally took its first lead of the second half on a 3-point basket by Jerica James at 56-55 with 7:51 left. Florida quickly answered with the game’s next seven points though, as MSU missed eight of its next nine shots from the floor after grabbing the lead.
Still, the Bulldogs kept battling. A 3-pointer by Grant brought the Bulldogs within two with 50 seconds left, but the Gators hit four free throws from there to close out the win.
“The first half was a bad half for us,” Grant said. “Even though we outscored them in the second half, we were in too deep. We tried what we could to get it back, but we couldn’t get over the hump.”
In the opening half, Florida quickly sprinted to an 11-4 advantage. MSU established an inside presence with strong post play from Martha Alwal and stormed back for a 14-13 lead. Early foul trouble for both Alwal and Breanna Richardson stalled the Bulldogs and the Gators took advantage.
A 10-0 run by Florida ran the advantage to 23-14. Florida held a similar lead for the remainder of the half before MSU’s spirited rally in the second half.
“You have to give Florida credit,” Schaefer said. “When we took the lead, they called timeout and answered with back-to-back baskets.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 24 of 59 shots from the field (40.7 percent), 7 of 26 shots from 3-point range (26.9 percent) and 12of 16 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent). The Gators hit 27 of 49 shots from the field (55.1 percent), 5 of 10 shots from 3-point range (50.0 percent) and 12 of 20 shots from the foul line (60.0 percent).
MSU held a 32-30 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 11 assists and 17 turnovers, while the Gators had 14 assists and 17 turnovers.
Grant paced MSU with 14 points, while May added 12 points and Carter added 10 points.
Florida (19-11) placed four players in double figures. Jaterra Bonds led the Gators with 18 points, while Kayla Lewis added 17 points, Cassie Peoples added 13 points and Antoinette Bannister added 10 points.MSU will now await word for potential postseason play on March 17. The opening round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament will be played at on-campus locations March 19 through 21.