November 29, 2012 10:02:27 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Carnecia Williams aims to please.
After playing in only 69 minutes in her first two seasons at Mississippi State University, the 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore forward plans to make every second count.
That's why Williams wanted to make an impression after she heard MSU coach Vic Schaefer's call for more players to emerge to help Martha Alwal and Kendra Grant in scoring column.
Williams' first step Wednesday night proved to be one of her best efforts. Williams scored a career-high 26 points, and Grant added 16 points and 15 rebounds to lead MSU to a 70-55 victory against Savannah State at Humphrey Coliseum.
"It's very exciting," Williams said. "It is what I have been waiting on to be a part offensively to help the team out. That is what I have been working on."
Williams entered the game averaging 3.8 points per game and shooting 7 of 24 (29.2 percent) from the field. She jolted those marks by going 10 of 14 from the field and 6 of 9 from the free-throw line to raise her scoring average to 7 ppg.
Williams did most of her damage from the blocks, carving out space against Savannah State's undersized front line. The Lady Tigers (2-4) had only three active players 6-foot or taller. Even with Alwal, MSU's 6-4 sophomore center, a non-factor with six points and two rebounds in 21 minutes, the Bulldogs still held a 43-23 edge in rebounds, a 42-24 advantage in points in the paint, and an 18-1 margin in second-chance points. MSU (3-4) also shot a season-best 48.1 percent (56 percent in the first half) from the field.
All of those ingredients created a mix Schaefer enjoyed.
"I am so proud of Carnecia and Kendra," Schaefer said. "They played with the heart and the desire you want every time you step on the court. We won the game because of those two. When you only have 30 chances to play, you should take advantage of every opportunity when the lights come on. I thought they really did that tonight."
Williams redshirted in her first season at MSU due to injury. Last season, injuries plagued her again and limited her to 16 games. She scored only 10 points and averaged 4.3 minutes per game.
This season, as one of only three true post players on scholarship, Williams knows she will be counted on. With Alwal, who entered the game leading the team in scoring (15.7 ppg.) and leading the Southeastern Conference (10.3) in rebounding, Williams figures to get one-on-one opportunities in the post to score. Her ability to convert those chances will depend in part on how well she deals with a balky knee that gave her trouble earlier in the season.
On Wednesday, though, Williams showed she can be a presence inside that defenses will have to watch, which could open things on the perimeter for shooters like Grant and senior guard Darriel Gaynor. She said her 26-point outburst was the first time she had scored that many points in a game at any level of basketball.
Williams' effort also marked the first time a post player scored 20 or more points to lead the team in scoring since Chanel Mokango scored 20 points in a 74-71 loss to Florida State University in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament on March 28, 2010.
Junior point guard Katia May, who had a career-high six assists and a season-high three steals in 28 minutes, said Williams gets a face when she is in position and wants her teammates to feed her the ball. Williams was in position so often Wednesday night that she only needed to take a drop step or turn and use an angled shot off the backboard to convert.
"It is pretty easy when she is at the point guard because we got this eye contact that is crazy. It is pretty easy," Williams said of her ability to connect with May. "We had a lot of mismatches. Our high-low was killing them, so it was pretty effective tonight."
MSU used a 9-1 spurt to open the second half and push its lead to 44-30 on a basket by Alwal with 17 minutes, 13 seconds remaining. Savannah State cut the 50-42 at the 10:42 mark, but it didn't get any closer.
Sherise Williams also had 10 points and nine rebounds in her most effective outing of the season. The freshman forward was 4 of 6 from the field. She went 3 of 15 from the field last week in a 61-59 loss to Winthrop University at the Hardwood Tournament of Hope in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. MSU lost all three of its games at the three-day event, but Schaefer feels his team continues to take small steps. He reiterated his team will work through inexperience and a lack of depth all season, but that he was extremely pleased to see Grant respond after he substituted for her early in the game. The sophomore forward, who started all 30 games last season, "answered the call," as Schaefer said, by notching a career-high in rebounds. The performance marked the first time she reached double figures in rebounding.
"As everybody knows, we say this after every game, coach is big and huge on defense and our rebounding," said Grant, who played 32 minutes. "He got on us hard at halftime talking about rebounding and our defensive effort, so I took that to heart and really just tried to be that defensive spark we needed."
MSU will play at 4 p.m. Saturday at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.