STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State junior guard Jerica James put to good use the lessons she learned in practice Monday night.
“Every day in practice, I see (teammate) Katia May’s similar move,” James said. “She has the same fake and pump. I am not going to say that I block Katia all the time, but I am going to say that I had seen the move before. So I had to make sure I could get down there and hopefully make a play.”
James did just that, as she blocked the layup attempt of Southern Miss’ leading scorer Jamierra Faulkner. The block took place with her team leading by one point in the final half-minute of the first overtime.
James followed that up with the back-breaking 3-pointer in the second overtime as MSU knocked off Southern Miss 74-66 in a second-round game of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament played at Humphrey Coliseum.
MSU (21-13) will now face Auburn (19-14) at 7 p.m. Thursday in a third-round game at Humphrey Coliseum. Auburn, which defeated Old Dominion 82-59 Monday night, won both regular season meetings between the two Southeastern Conference rivals.
Tickets for the contest go on sale Tuesday at 10 a.m. and cost $6 for adults and $4 for students. The first 100 MSU students get in the game free, and there will be free pizza for the first 200 fans in attendance.
The 2014 Bulldogs become the second squad in program history to win two games in the WNIT, with the last time being in 2001.
“One heck of a basketball game,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “You take your hat off to Southern Miss. It was a great environment. I loved our fans tonight. We didn’t deserve to win at times. However, we made enough plays down the stretch to deserve to win. That is what postseason basketball is all about. The kids just keep hanging and keep battling.”
Breanna Richardson led MSU with 20 points, while Martha Alwal added 17 points and Savannah Carter had 13 points. Alwal posted her 11th double-double of the season and 30th of her career as she grabbed 15 rebounds. Alwal ‘s four blocks now give her 252, placing her 10th all-time in SEC career history.
Carter fell one rebound shy of the distinction as she had nine boards.
The Bulldogs were credited with eight blocked shots, but none may have been bigger than Jerica James’ rejection of Faulkner. The Golden Eagles’ leading scorer finished with 20 points but was harassed into 11 of her team’s 26 turnovers by a dogged Bulldog defense.
It took a little while for the latest installment on the in-state rivalry to heat up. Even though the first half was competitive, the Bulldogs could not find the range and only shot 27.8 percent from the field.
Southern Miss built early leads of 17-12 and 19-14. A jumper by Katia May brought the Maroon and White back within 21-20. A 3-pointer by USM’s Brittany Dinkins ran the lead to 27-23 at halftime.
“Coach told us to not worry about how badly we played and to go out and make plays,” MSU junior guard Savannah Carter said. “He always talks us about throwing the first punch. We went out and tried to do that.”
MSU did just that, scoring the game’s first 10 points of the second half. Southern Miss righted the ship and quickly grabbed another lead. Things stayed nip and tuck the rest of the way.
“It may have been our worst first half in a month of Sundays.” Schaefer said. “In the second half, we threw the first punch. We had so many mental lapses, but give our kids credit because they hung in there and found a way to win.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 24 of 75 shots from the field (32.0 percent), 2 of 16 shots from 3-point range (12.5 percent) and 24 of 38 shots from the free throw line (63.2 percent). The Golden Eagles hit 25 of 67 shots from the field (37.3 percent), 4 of 12 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 12 of 19 shots from the free throw line (63.2 percent).
MSU held a 53-47 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 20 turnovers, while the Golden Eagles had 12 assists and 26 turnovers.Southern Miss (27-7) received 20 points from Faulkner, who was pressured into 11 of USM’s 26 turnovers by the rugged Bulldog defense. Tamara Jones added 11 points, while Jerontay Clemons and Brittany Dinkins each added 10 points for the Golden Eagles.