Mississippi State women’s basketball (12-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) dropped its second straight SEC game Thursday. Tennessee (11-6) outpaced the Bulldogs down the stretch in an 80-69 home win, moving to 3-0 in the SEC.
It’s never an easy task to go to Knoxville and come away with a win, and while MSU will be disappointed after giving itself a chance late, there were some positive takeaways to carry forward.
“I’m so proud for them to come to a hostile environment and compete all the way to the end,” head coach Sam Purcell said of the performance. “We improved in a lot of areas. The kids took it to heart at the free throw line, the assist to turnover ratio was phenomenal, I thought we had a lot of great team ball, but ultimately it came down to rebounding.”
One look at the stat sheet proves Purcell right. The Volunteers had a nearly identical field goal percentage as their visitors, with considerably fewer 3-pointers, but they outrebounded the Bulldogs 50-31. Scoring was on the MSU to-do list, but it only kept them alive for so long against a more physical Tennessee team.
True freshman Debreasha Powe posted a career-high 21 points, level with Jessika Carter’s total to lead the team on the night. Her six buckets from beyond the arc were crucial as State tried to keep up with the Vols but also created some shifts in momentum that aided her teammates.
“It doesn’t surprise me, I’ve been saying it from Day 1,” Purcell said of the freshman. “I’ve been in this business a long time, and when a kid like her goes so hard every day in practice, she trains like every game matters and every game she has circled. So for her this is just a walk in the park because of the effort she puts in behind the scenes. So I couldn’t be more proud of her, because she’s a big-lights, big-stage kind of kid, and boy was she big tonight.”
Powe’s big performance was especially important in the third quarter as her team chased the lead and looked to close the gap a bit before the final frame. At points the Bulldogs were able to close the lead to as tight as one or two possessions, but they couldn’t sustain their momentum. The fatigue from extra minutes and poor paint defense from the Bulldogs let the Vols re-establish control down the stretch.
One factor at play for the Bulldogs was the absence of Denae Carter. She and Ramani Parker, who has missed the last few games, have been the primary reinforcements down low for the Bulldogs, and with both of them out of action that responsibility fell primarily on Carter and Powe. They played nearly the entire game, alongside Anastasia Hayes who played 38 minutes, showing the lack of depth on the MSU bench in Knoxville.
Ultimately Tennessee’s offensive firepower was too much for State to handle, thanks to Jordan Horston’s 27 points and former Bulldog Rickea Jackson’s 18. The Vols picked up 44 points in the paint and won 25 offensive rebounds to exploit the Bulldogs’ lack of depth down low.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Purcell replied. “I mean those two, Denae Carter, like I’ve always said I can’t say enough good things about her. She’s a relentless rebounder, she’s had games that you’ve all seen that she’s had 10, 11 rebounds. And then Ramani’s had unbelievable stretches with her length where she’s able to get some of those 50/50 balls. So there’s no doubt that if we can get healthy and keep this team together, that there’s no doubt that our best basketball is ahead of us.”
The Bulldogs have now dropped two straight games and will face their toughest test of the season on Sunday with No. 1 South Carolina coming to Starkville. They’ll face the defending national champions in a nationally televised game at noon Sunday.
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