December 21, 2012 12:08:47 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Opportunities don't give a lot of advance warning.
If they did, Shamia Robinson and Brittany Young would have removed their warmup clothes and been sitting on the edge of their seats Thursday for the opening tip against Jacksonville State University.
Trouble is players never know when their chance to make an impression is going to come. But Robinson and Young were only too happy to oblige when the Mississippi State women's basketball team struggled out of the gate and coach Vic Schaefer needed a spark.
Robinson scored a career-high 17 points and matched her career-high with 10 rebounds for her first double-double, and Young added a career-high six points and tied her career-high with five rebounds to lead MSU to a 69-54 victory before a crowd of 1,293 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"It is just like life. You never know when an opportunity is going to present itself, and when it does, have you prepared yourself and are you ready for that opportunity?" Schaefer said. "Brittany has prepared herself for that opportunity. Shamia is just blessed with some athleticism. Once she has been cleared to play, she was able to go out there and do some nice things."
Kendra Grant had 13 of her 15 points in the second half to help MSU (6-5) rally from a 12-point deficit in the first half.
Schaefer had a bad feeling from the start after JSU's Amanda McCarthy scored on a layup off the tip. McCarthy and MSU's Katia May had a moment of confusion about which direction the teams were going, which allowed McCarthy to drive in for the score. Twenty-four seconds later, Schaefer substituted Jerica James in for May. Less than three minutes later, Schaefer removed post players Sherise Williams and Martha Alwal after MSU fell behind 8-2. Schaefer was clearly agitated and chastised his players sitting on the bench by saying, "Way to come ready to play."
After the game, Schaefer took full responsibility for the start, saying it is his job to make sure all of his players are physically and mentally set to go. The performances of Young, who came in at the 16-minute, 46-second mark, and Robinson, who entered at the 11:37 mark, made it a little easier for him to talk about the game. He didn't use the fact he considered the game "a distraction game," the team's last one before Christmas break, as an excuse.
"I will never come in here and complain about our skill set or what we're able to do or what we're not able to do," Schaefer said. "My big complaint is how we represent Mississippi State and not what we do but how we do it. That will always be my focus with any team I ever coach at State. I take great pride in playing the game and respecting the game, and when I don't get that from my team, I am not very happy."
Schaefer said he opened the night not intending to play Robinson. He declined to elaborate on why he started the game with that mind-set, but he relented nearly midway through the first half with MSU trailing 14-6 and needing a lift.
Robinson, a 5-foot-8 guard/forward from West Oktibbeha County High School in Maben, answered the call. On Sunday, Robinson, a sophomore, had two points in six minutes in her first action of the season in a victory against Florida A&M University. She had an idea Schaefer didn't plan to use her much against JSU, in part because of the injuries that have limited her playing and practice time.
"I thought, 'This is my time. I am finally back on the court and it is time for me to do what I do best, which is play ball,' " Robinson said. "I had to get my mind ready for it. ... I told myself during shootaround that if I got the opportunity to get in I was going to make him want to keep me in. I was going to give it all I had every minute I was in."
In addition to providing energy, Robinson jolted the scoring column. She scored on a drive, hit two free throws, and then scored off a pass from Carnecia Williams in a high-low set. The basket was part of a 21-5 run in the final 8:06 of the half that pushed MSU to a 32-28 halftime lead.
"I am extremely proud of her and pleased with her effort," Schaefer said. "Respect the game by how you play it. I thought she played pretty hard tonight, but she got tired and everybody knew it. That's what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to play to exhaustion, and when you're tired you go, 'Coach, go ahead and get me out.' "
MSU used an 11-0 run midway through the second half to pull away. Grant had seven points in the spurt, while Young took a charge and hit a jump shot off a pass from May, and Robinson stayed in control and scored on a layup on the secondary break to extend the lead to 54-37 with 9:27 to go. MSU led by at least 12 the rest of the way.
"Brittany played well tonight, too, at the four and the three," Schaefer said. "I am going to need her to continue to do that. She is going to have to be that plumber for me at the four and the three."
Schaefer said he never will play favorites and always will look for the players who are playing the best and the hardest. Young sensed Schaefer's frustration as she watched from the bench and knew she had a chance to earn her most minutes of the season.
"You don't want to do the same thing the five people before you did, so I just wanted to come in and play hard and help my team any way I could," Young said. "I just did what I could, just played hard and if I had an open shot I knocked it down. In practice, I have been hitting some shots, so I thought I could hit them if I was open."
Alwal, a sophomore center who entered the game as the team's second-leading scorer (12.5 points per game) and leading rebounder (9.8 per game), was scoreless and had three rebounds in seven minutes. It was the sixth scoreless game of her career.
Sherise Williams had nine points and four rebounds before fouling out after 12 minutes. Williams was coming off a career-high 21 point-effort against FAMU.
MSU made up for lack of post production by forcing a season-high 35 turnovers and getting a season-best 17 steals, including four by Darriel Gaynor and three each from May (nine points, three assists) and Carnecia Williams (eight points, eight rebounds).
Grant, the team's leading scorer entering the game (13.9 ppg.), said Young and Robinson provided a needed lift and seized their opportunity.
"As everybody in the gym knew we came out not like Mississippi State should have come out," Grant said. "They came off the bench and did more than what was needed. Shamia coming in and getting a double-double in 19 minutes, that is crazy.
"Brittany did the little things we needed. ... A lot of credit goes to them."
MSU will play host to Northwestern State at 7 p.m. Friday.
NOTE: Schaefer said Carnecia Williams had a root canal Wednesday and will have to have another one after she returns from Christmas break.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.