STARKVILLE — With the temperatures outside Humphrey Coliseum dipping into the mid-30s, Mississippi State’s first quarter shooting performance in its 79-55 win over Southern Friday mimicked arctic level frigidity.
Just four days after scorching the nets for a school-record 18 3-pointers in a throttling of Troy, MSU missed eight of its first 11 shots against a Southern team that had lost its previous four contests by an average of 21.75 points. Slogging through its middling start, the Bulldogs shot just 36.8 percent from the floor, while only out-rebounding the visiting Jaguars by one board in the game’s opening 10 minutes.
“I thought it was their defense,” head coach Nikki McCray-Penson said postgame. “And I addressed it. I said, ‘They’re pushing us all over the place. Get to your spots. Stop settling.’ I thought we settled with some jumpers right there in the paint and we were missing some easy shots in the paint. We know we have to be pretty efficient in the paint.”
With its offensive fluidity stalled through the opening frame, sophomore forward Rickea Jackson scored all eight of her first half points in the second quarter as she willed the Bulldogs to a 17-point halftime lead.
Coinciding with Jackson’s uptick, MSU consistently found offensive success in the paint during Friday’s second quarter. Though not quite as stark a size advantage as past contests, junior forward Jessika Carter set to work on the blocks as she finished the opening 20 minutes with 13 points and seven rebounds en route to her 13th career double-double.
Senior center Yemiyah Morris, who has spent the bulk of this season as a reserve, also offered a brief glimpse of offensive aptitude in and around the point as she sliced and diced her way along the interior to knock down her only two shots of the first half.
“In the first quarter we weren’t hitting shots,” Carter said. “I feel like in the second quarter we got more comfortable and just started hitting shots.”
“Jess has been really good for us,” starting point guard Myah Taylor added. “She’s been maturing a lot. She’s a very wonderful player. She’s a big presence on our team and when she’s calm and she’s getting easy buckets, like you said,it’s a calming effect on the team.”
Following a hot shooting second quarter in which the Bulldogs converted 12 of 19 shots, MSU stormed out of the half knocking down five of its first nine attempts and seeing its lead balloon to as many as 26 points.
MSU capped the contest shooting 59 percent from the floor over the final three quarters as it rolled to its second-straight win since dropping a road contest at No. 23 South Florida in overtime two weeks ago.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t prepared, the coaches did a wonderful job with the style, we knew everything that they were doing,” Taylor said. “But we need to take more pride in starting games off better, with more energy.”
The Bulldogs return to action Sunday against Central Arkansas before a 10-day layoff ahead of their Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia on Dec. 31.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.