NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Mississippi State women’s basketball team’s best start in history came to a halt Sunday at the hands of a hot-shooting Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt shot 62.9 percent from the field and claimed a 78-62 victory against No. 14 MSU in a Southeastern Conference game at Memorial Gym.
The loss dropped MSU to 18-1 and 3-1 in conference play. Vanderbilt improved to 9-7 and 1-3. The Bulldogs started the day as one of the final three undefeated teams nationwide. The 18 wins are the most by any team in the nation.
“Give Vanderbilt credit,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. “They played very well with a lot of energy on their end. I was disappointed with our inability to keep the ball in front of us and to keep them from getting shots at the rim.
“I thought we fought. I am proud of the kids for playing hard. I didn’t think we quit for one second. Vanderbilt has made 15 straight NCAAs, should be 16 this year. We put them at the line 42 times and you just can’t do that and win.”
Vanderbilt scored the first six points and never trailed. The Commodores used the early offensive momentum to build a 16-3 lead with 11 minutes, 49 second left in the first half.
Victoria Vivians completed an old-fashioned 3-point play to help MSU cut the deficit to 18-11 with 9:28 left in the half. Another 3-pointer by Vivians a couple of possessions later cut the deficit to 19-16.
A 7-0 run by Vanderbilt re-established a 28-18 lead for the home team.
In the opening half, the Commodores shot 68.4 percent from the floor and led 34-24 at halftime.
In the second half, a 3-pointer by Kendra Grant brought MSU within 49-42 with 9:46 left. The Commodores extended the lead to double figures before the Bulldogs whittled it to 64-58 on a layup by Brenna Richardson with 4:03 left.
The Commodores then used an advantage at the free-throw line to close out their seventh win the last eight series meetings with the Bulldogs.
“I think it always starts with attacking and I think I took a really hard look at what I needed to change,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “I needed to challenge this team and listen to the players. I met with two players and I listened and then I challenged the team yesterday, especially this morning, and during pregame. I needed to tell them the truth and tell them what they need to do for this team. I started to establish roles myself, because they weren’t going to do it themselves. I established more of a rotation and roles, and they had to decide whether to get on board or not. I figured when you’re 0-3 you’re the one who has to change. I’m really proud of how they responded. I told them if you guys want to get mad at me at least you’ll come together. And as a leader I need to do whatever it takes to get this team together. And we weren’t together. They all like each other, but we weren’t playing together as a team. I thought it would happen naturally, so I really took a good hard look at myself first.”
MSU was 21 of 64 from the field (32.8 percent), 3 of 13 from 3-point range (23.1), and 17 of 28 from the free-throw line (60.7). Vanderbilt was 22 of 35 from the field (62.9), 1 of 3 from 3-point range (33.3), and 33 of 42 from the foul line (78.6 percent).
The 55 fouls (332 by MSU) and the 70 free throws were the most in a SEC game this season.
Vanderbilt held a 37-31 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had nine assists and 15 turnovers, while the Commodores had 18 assists and 24 turnovers.
Richardson led the Bulldogs with 16 points and 11 rebounds for her second double-double this season, and sixth overall. It was Richardson’s third time to lead the team in scoring this season. Vivians added 12 points, while Martha Alwal had 10 points.
Vanderbilt received 18 points from Morgan Batey, 17 from Rebekah Dahlman, 17 from Heather Bowe and 12 from Rachel Bell.
“Our problems are we continue to play undisciplined at times and not smart,” Schaefer said. “I’ve got a really smart group. I’ve got 14 with a 3.0 (grade-point average) or better. It’s basketball, and that’s my job. As the head coach, I’ve got to wear that. I’ll own it, and I’ll do better coaching and teaching. I thought today we had a lot of those situations where we could have been better, so we will go back to work, and the key is we don’t want to lose two in a row. We’ve got to come back and fight. I want every player on the team ready to beat LSU. We’ve got to come back and get ready for a team that is playing better. They’ve got one of their top two players back, and so we’ve got to get ready for LSU at home on Thursday night.”
MSU will play host LSU at 7 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network +) and Alabama at 3 p.m. Sunday (Fox Sports Net South).