STARKVILLE — The Mississippi State women’s basketball team had just about everything working for the first 5 minutes, 38 seconds Friday night against Southern Mississippi.
Aside from a missed layup and a forced 3-pointer, the Lady Bulldogs were sharing the ball, attacking the basket, taking care of the ball, and getting production from a host of players. MSU looked so crisp it looked like it easily was going to match its season-high of 14 assists in the first half.
The Lady Bulldogs didn’t reach that mark.
Instead, MSU finished with more turnovers than assists, lost key minutes due to foul trouble, and squandered a 14-point lead.
MSU regrouped in the second half, and even though it didn’t reach its opening level of execution in the final 20 minutes, it came close and played with energy to earn a 71-57 victory before a crowd of 780 at Humphrey Coliseum.
“I want to build on 26,” MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said, referring to the team’s biggest lead with 5:30 remaining in the game. “Every possession we can’t let them score. We have to have that kind of tenacity and that kind of energy and not be complacent.”
Porsha Porter led MSU (8-2) with a season-high 25 points, while Kendra Grant had a career-high 13 points. The performances helped MSU erase the memory of a 63-62 loss Sunday at Louisiana Tech. Grant went scoreless for the first time in her career in that game. She scored eight points in eight minutes in the first half before going to the bench with two fouls. She finished 3 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 7 from 3-point range, but she was 5 of 6 from the free-throw line. Entering the game, she was 3 of 6 from the charity stripe for the season.
“In the beginning, it just felt right and everything was falling into place,” Grant said. “I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time.”
Porter also was equally energized on both ends of the floor. She was 8 of 10 from the field and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line after going 5 of 11 from the stripe against Louisiana Tech. She also had nine rebounds and was credited with two steals.
“I had to pick up the team because my home girl Diamber was having a bad night and I had to pick up for her,” Porter said.
Diamber Johnson had 11 points, matched a season-high with seven assists, and had a career-high three blocked shots.
Senior forward Ashley Brown had 10 rebounds and six steals to help make up for the absence of senior center Catina Bett, who was on the bench but didn’t dress out. Freshman center Martha Alwal added nine points and four rebounds.
Freshman guard Jerica James’ jump shot gave MSU its biggest lead, 66-40, before USM made a late push against a lineup that featured four freshmen. MSU had 31 points off 25 USM turnovers. MSU also committed 22 turnovers and reached its season-high of 14 assists. Fanning-Otis joked afterward she would bottle the magic that helped her team play like it did at the start if she knew what it was. Until she finds the secret formula, Fanning-Otis said MSU needs to continue to get tougher and to love to see pressure and to attack it.
“You’re going to live up or down to expectations,” Fanning-Otis said. “Getting them to have a punch and an energy there that you want to be the best you can be. I don’t know what that is, and I am not worried about points, but I want to be stingy. I want every possession to not let the opponent score.”
A more telling statistic for MSU was a season-high 19 made free throws in 25 attempts, which was the second most this season. The 76-percent effort was the second-best mark of the season.
Johnson said the team has been practicing better, which has resulted in more focused efforts. She said better practices lead to performances like the team delivered at the start. Now, she said, the trick is taking a breath and relaxing and letting its best basketball flow.
“(How we started the game) we just have to learn how to play like that for 40 minutes,” Johnson said. “When we get teams down, we have to keep them down and not let them come back and give them hope.
“A lot of times we get like robots and try to be so A, B, C, D. … We used what they were doing against them, and we just have to continue to do that for 40 minutes.”
Tanecka Carey led USM (3-6) with 21 points. The Lady Eagles hit 33.3 percent (19 of 57) from the field, its second-worst shooting percentage of the season. USM shot 32.6 percent in a 70-44 loss against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Dec. 3.
MSU will play host to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette at 7 p.m. Monday.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.