STARKVILLE — The Mississippi State women’s basketball team made a statement Monday night.
Not only did it beat a quality opponent in Xavier 71-65 at Humphrey Coliseum, but it also may have found a third offensive option in center Martha Alwal.
Alwal, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Worthington, Minn., seemed to figure out her best offense was off an offensive rebound. Against Xavier, she had 14 points and 11 rebounds hours after being named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week. Her double-double came three nights after she set the school record for blocked shots in a game with 10 in a 78-41 opening-night victory against Jacksonville State.
“What was good about how she scored was that there an offensive board, a pick-and-roll, and being in the right place at the right time,” MSU
coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “She came up with some huge buckets we had to have.”
Alwal complemented the senior backcourt duo of Diamber Johnson and Porsha Porter, who combined for 35 points and 13 of MSU’s 28 field goals.
“It is a big thing, and what’s going to help us out is having different (offensive) options and we really need that,” Johnson said as she stared at Alwal at the postgame table. “Not just offensive boards but holding down the paint, too.”
Xavier (1-1), which was returning one of its top six scorers, couldn’t handle MSU’s half-court trapping defense and committed 19 turnovers that led to 22 points, many easy layups.
“This was our first game on the road and our inexperience showed at times,” Xavier first-year coach Amy Waugh said. “Mississippi State got into to us and we just turned it over way too much.”
Trailing 16-9, MSU held Xavier without a field goal for the next five minutes in the first half to complete 16-2 run. A wide-open 3-pointer by former West Oktibbeha County High School standout Shamia Robinson gave MSU a 37-32 halftime advantage.
Tyeasha Moss, Xavier’s leading scorer with 22 points Saturday night,
had just one 3-pointer in the first 20 minutes and was 5 of 10 from the field in 40 minutes.
“Mississippi State had a game plan knowing that Moss was our go-to player and they focused on taking her out of the game,” Waugh said. “She got a couple of open looks and that other than that, not much else.”
Marquette transfer Jessica Pachko (14 points, 11 rebounds) led Xavier and helped get all of MSU’s front-court players in foul trouble.
MSU survived and withstood a late Xavier run that cut its lead to 63-61 with 3 minutes, 37 seconds remaining. MSU slowed the tempo and used Johnson to take the shot clock down to 10 before crossing halfcourt. The strategy helped limit Xavier to only one basket the rest of the way.
The clinching points came after Johnson held the ball until five seconds remained on the shot clock. She missed an off-balance floater, but rebounded her miss, was fouled, and converted the free throws.
The Lady Bulldogs (2-0) held Xavier to 8 of 25 from the field in the final 20 minutes thanks to better fundamental recognition of the help-side defense Fanning-Otis is trying to create with her veteran starters.
“I felt like we showed some toughness down the stretch, some persistence,” Fanning-Otis said. “Diamber down the stretch is going to have to be in a leadership role with this team and she did that tonight.”
MSU will complete its opening three-game homestand at 7 p.m. Thursday against Alcorn State before heading to Texas A&M University to play the defending national champions on Nov. 20.