STARKVILLE — Savannah Carter arrived in Starkville as an apparent ideal fit for Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer’s system.
Not only did Carter love to play defense, but she also delivered the energy and enthusiasm Schaefer loves.
Carter showed early in the season she was ready to make a contribution on offense, too. The 5-foot-9 guard from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College scored in double figures and had one double-double in MSU’s first four games. Included in those performances was a career-high 21-point effort in a victory against Tennessee Tech.
Since then, Carter has been just one of many Bulldogs who has developed a better understanding of her role and how to flourish in it. As a result, MSU is alive and well in the postseason.
On Thursday, Carter tied with Martha Alwal for team-high scoring honors with 15 points in a 77-68 victory against Tulane in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The victory earned MSU (20-13) its first postseason win since 2010 and secured the team a second-round WNIT matchup against Southern Miss at 7 p.m. Monday at Humphrey Coliseum.
“I feel more confident in my shot,” Carter said. “When I am open and I know I have a gap, like today in the game, I knew I was going to be open, so I just shot the ball.”
Carter was 6 of 15 from the field, including 1 of 2 from 3-point range, and had seven rebounds and three assists (two turnovers) in 29 minutes in one of her most solid all-around games of the season. Her 15-point effort was her second-highest total of the season, and the 15 shots were the most she has attempted in a game. Both totals reflected a confidence Carter said has developed over the course of the season.
In the last 11 games, Carter is averaging 7.7 points per game, which is a little better than her 7.2 ppg. scoring average for the season. She has scored in double figures in five of her last six games. More importantly, she has played 26 or more minutes in eight of those games and is shooting 45.9 percent from the field. Carter is shooting 36.7 percent from the field for the season.
“It comes from practice and playing against our practice players,” Carter said. “He’s always like, ‘Your thing is to attack,’ so when I get the ball I know when to attack and when not to attack. I know when to shoot and when not to take a shot. I know when to pass a shooter who is a better shooter than me.”
Schaefer said earlier in the season he set goals of 10 points and six rebounds for Carter. He also challenged his players to get into the gym more to work on their perimeter shooting. Carter has responded to both of those things and has been a more consistent contributor down the stretch in Schaefer’s second season as head coach in Starkville.
Carter said the learning process has been more about the coaches getting in her head and convince her she is a capable shooter. She said assistant coach Aqua Franklin scolds her when she doesn’t take a shot. She also said the coaches have helped her lose her fear of taking shots because she will miss them.
“Through the SEC tournament, shooting in the Florida game and in the Missouri game and seeing how people back off me when they know I can shoot and I have been shooting and I know how to shoot the three,” Carter said. “It is a matter of making people respect me.”
Opponents respect Carter’s defense. She leads the Bulldogs with 69 steals and is third on the team in rebounding (4.8). Carter’s ability to contribute in so many ways makes her an integral part to MSU’s attack. Dubbed the team’s “Energizer bunny” for her penchant for sparking the team with her play, Carter played 25 or fewer minutes seven times in the middle of the season in part due to foul trouble. She said she has learned how to balance her energy level on both ends of the floor to play smartly and to make sure she is on the floor as much as possible to help the Bulldogs go.
Schaefer has seen Carter developing a better understanding of how to attack under control. He said early in the season Carter would “get caught up in the moment” and try to do too much in transition or after making something happen on defense. He said she is much more comfortable recognizing situations in transitions and picking her spots in half-court sets to take a 3-pointer or to drive to the basket.
“In our league, the three position is just loaded,” Schaefer said. “Every team has a monster and she is going against the best in the world, so to get 10 (points) and six (rebounds) might sound easy, but it is as hard as anything you will try to do. She has to go against the best of the best. She is getting more and more comfortable in what we’re doing and what she can do within the structure of what we’re doing.”
“First day I got here, coach was like, ‘We need your energy on the floor,’ ” Carter said. “If I am not energized, the team is not energized. I take that into huge consideration to my teammates. I know if I am not up to par, they’re not going to be up to par, so I try to be on my Ps and Qs every time, even if it is a bad game.”
n Vivians, Schaefer shine in All-Star game: At Jackson, Scott Central High senior Victoria Vivians set a new record with 36 points and 15 rebounds Friday to lead Mississippi to a 95-89 victory against Alabama in the annual girls senior All-Star game between the states.
Vivians, Starkville High guard Blair Schaefer, the daughter of MSU coach Vic Schaefer, and Shades Valley High (Ala.) guard Morgan William were three-fifths of MSU’s recruiting class that played in the game. Schafer had eight points and took five charges, including one against William, to lead the Mississippi team, which tied the all-time series against Alabama 12-12. Schaefer also had two assists and a steal in 20 minutes.
Vivians was 10 of 18 from the field and 12 of 16 from the free throw line. She also had three blocked shots, one steal, and one assist in a game-high 27 minutes.
William had 12 points, two assists, and two turnovers in 20 minutes for the Alabama team.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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