Despite playing with just eight players, and without leading scorer Rickea Jackson, the Mississippi State women’s basketball team earned a hard fought 65-62 win on Thursday night at Alabama.
Four players played at least 35 minutes for the Bulldogs (10-4, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), who led most of the way. Anastasia Hayes led the way for Mississippi State, scoring 22 points.
“When we needed a play, and it looked like we were on our last leg, they just kept putting their hands on balls, getting a steal and getting a key rebound,” interim coach Doug Novak said. “Just amazing.”
Guards Hayes, Myah Taylor and JerKaila Jordan were crucial on both ends of the floor, creating turnovers and fast-break opportunities while limiting the Crimson Tide’s opportunities to get into the paint.
Taylor again was a key distributor and defender, and when she went down with an ankle injury late in the third quarter, it looked like she might be done for the night. Instead, she taped it up and got back out on the court, getting a crucial block with 10 seconds to play.
“Then, I thought we had lost Myah for the game, but somehow, she comes back, tapes the ankle, and gets two or three more steals,” Novak said. “It’s an outstanding effort. I’m so proud to be a part of this.”
Taylor finished with 14 points, 6 assists and a career-high 7 steals.
“She shows up everyday… she just never has a weak moment,” Novak said. “I’ve just never seen her take it up to this level.
“This was a first for me, and she’s been special for a long time at Mississippi State, there’s a reason that all the State fans love her so much, but that was my first experience watching her take it to another level and bringing everyone else along with her.”
What was perhaps most important for the team tonight, and what Taylor personified with her performance, was the effort from start to finish. As they did in their loss to South Carolina last weekend, the Bulldogs fought hard against the odds.
In the absence of Jackson and dealing with an overall lack of depth, they still managed to put high-pressure defense on their opponent and gave themselves a chance to win. And they certainly impressed their coach.
“It’s hard to imagine a better feeling than tonight,” Novak said. “That was special. To go on the road and play a very good Alabama team regardless of the circumstances, this by far is my favorite moment up to this point.”
Mississippi State held Alabama to 5-of-17 shooting from the floor during the fourth quarter and forced 20 turnovers overall. The Bulldogs turned over the ball 12 times. State had a decisive 12-2 edge in steals.
Jordan finished with 16 points for the Bulldogs, while Denae Carter led the team with 10 rebounds.
Mississippi State returns to Humphrey Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 9 for their SEC home opener against Vanderbilt at 2 p.m.