STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State made an emphatic return to women’s basketball postseason play Thursday night.
Playing before an energetic crowd at Humphrey Coliseum, MSU knocked off Tulane 77-68 in an opening-round game of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
For MSU, it was its first postseason win since winning twice in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. With the victory, MSU clinched its fifth 20-win season in program history.
MSU (20-13) will now host Southern Mississippi (27-6) at 7 p.m. Monday in the second round of the tournament. The Bulldogs won a regular-season meeting 71-61 in December in Starkville.
Tickets for the contest will be available online at www.hailstate.com/tickets and by phone at 1-888-GO-DAWGS.
Southern Miss advanced with a 75-60 home win over Lamar in its WNIT opener Thursday night.
“I am awfully proud of this team,” Bulldog head coach Vic Schaefer said. “We talked about throwing the first punch. We knew they would make a run. I was disappointed how we came out to start the second half, however, after they made the run, I am really proud at how we responded to put them away.”
Mississippi State may have played its most complete first half of the season and never trailed in the contest. Extremely efficient on the offensive end, the Bulldogs streaked to a 15-point lead less than 10 minutes into the contest.
Tulane (20-11) closed within 41-33 halftime, and another run by the Green Wave had the guests back within two points at 43-41. The Bulldogs responded with the game’s next 10 points.
“Coach talked to us about throwing the first punch and the second punch too,” MSU junior center Martha Alwal said. “I thought we really did a good job of doing that. He challenged us to be the more aggressive team and to take the attack to them.”
The Bulldogs scored the game’s first four points and quickly stretched the lead to 18-7 on a layup by Savannah Carter with 14:41 left in the first half. A layup by Breanna Richardson ran the lead out to a game-best 15 points at 25-10 with 11:01 left in the first half.
The inside play of Alwal and outside shooting of Kendra Grant allowed the Maroon and White to hold a healthy advantage. Tulane scored five of the first half’s final seven points to trail by eight at the intermission.
After a jumper by Alwal ran the MSU lead back out to 43-33, Tulane answered with the game’s next eight points.
“We just had to keep our composure,” freshman guard Dominique Dillingham said. “Since we had been in tough situations before, we knew we had the confidence to keep going.”
A layup by Alwal in transition snapped the run. Carter followed with a basket and Richardson added an old-fashioned 3-point play as the lead was quickly pushed back out to 11 at 52-41 with 13:37 left.
From there, Tulane closed within seven points one time and nine points five others times but Mississippi State always had the answer on the defensive end.
“I am just really proud of getting win No. 20 against a really quality opponent,” Schaefer said. “I was proud of the crowd. There was not a free seat in the house and these people came out to support Mississippi State. You want to get the program to the point where the opponent does not matter. The fans are simply here to see Mississippi State play.
“The fans were really into the game and the environment was electric.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 25 of 62 shots from the field (40.3 percent), 5 of 15 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 22 of 28 shots from the free throw line (78.6 percent). The Green Wave hit 26 of 66 shots from the field (39.4 percent), 5 of 10 shots from 3-point range (50.0 percent) and 11 of 12 shots from the foul line (91.7 percent).
MSU held a 41-39 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 13 turnovers, while the Green Wave had 12 assists and 16 turnovers.
Alwal and Carter each had 15 points to pace MSU. The Maroon and White also had Richardson (13 points), Dillingham (11 points) and Grant (10 points) in double figures. Richardson added 10 rebounds, including eight offensive, to collect her third double-double of the season.
Alwal swatted five shots in the contest, a WNIT record for the Bulldogs. The five blocks put her at 248 for her career, one back of 10th in SEC history.
Tulane received 17 points from Jamie Kaplan and 10 rebounds from Adesuwa Ebomwonyi.