KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After playing its best first half of the season, the Mississippi State women”s basketball team couldn”t duplicate that feat and fell victim to an 18-0 run that buoyed the No. 5 University of Tennessee to an 81-55 Southeastern Conference victory Thursday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Lady Bulldogs led by as many eight points in the game”s opening half. In the first 20 minutes, MSU shot 47 percent from the field, including seven 3-point baskets, and led 37-35 at halftime.
Tennessee answered with an 18-0 run to start the game”s final half and didn”t trail the rest of the way. The Lady Bulldogs went the first 5 minutes, 49 seconds of the final half without scoring before a basket by Porsha Porter ended that draught.
“I thought that we were ready to play hard in the first half,” MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “I was really disappointed in the second half. I have to give credit to the players stepping up because they took it to us from a defensive standpoint.”
Tennessee (20-2, 8-0 SEC) won for the 32nd-straight time in the series, while MSU (8-11, 0-7) lost its eighth game in a row.
The Lady Volunteers scored the game”s first eight points. But a 3-pointer by Mary Kathryn Govero gave MSU its first lead at 20-19 with 7:56 left before halftime.
The lead swapped hands a couple of times before MSU grabbed a 33-25 lead on a putback by Diamber Johnson and 3-pointer from Porter.
The Lady Volunteers ended the half on a 10-4 run to cut the deficit to 37-35.
“I”m hoping we”re getting better,” Fanning-Otis said. “There”s a lot of room for this team to grow. You have to play with confidence. When you play in our league, it”s so physical there and you can”t get tired.”
After the 18-0 run, MSU got no closer than 14 points the remainder of the way. Tennessee shot 47.1 percent from the floor in the game”s final half.
“They knew that Mississippi State hadn”t won a game in conference this season and thought that this would be a cakewalk,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “I know (coach) Sharon (Fanning-Otis) though, and I knew that it was not going to be a cakewalk. We took them lightly until halftime.”
Tennessee (20-2, 8-0) could hardly afford to have an off night with Angie Bjorklund, who averages 11.3 points per game, on the bench nursing a sprained right foot and the SEC”s leading shot blocker, Kelley Cain, out with an illness. Fellow post player Vicki Baugh was held out because of soreness as well.
Johnson finished with 19 points. Govero added 16, while Porter finished with 13. Porter also had a team-high eight rebounds, including six on the defensive end, while dishing out five assists.
“(This game) gives us confidence, but it seems like we”ve had one good half of every game,” Govero said. “We”re working on putting two good halves together. We know when we do that, we”re going to see the results we want.”
Glory Johnson (career-high 22 points) was one of five Tennessee players in double figures. Taber Spani followed with 18 points and Meighan Simmons had 12. Shekinna Stricklen and Kamiko Williams each added 10.
MSU will play host Florida at 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU). The game will be the “Think Pink” breast cancer awareness contest for this season.