November 5, 2013 10:53:31 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Savannah Carter approaches everything with a purpose.
Whether it's harassing a ballhandler, tracking down a loose ball in the backcourt, or attacking the rim from the wing, Carter has a resolve and a body language all her own that says she is not going to be stopped.
Carter had that inner drive as a prep standout, which is why she attracted recruiting interest from national powers, including Tennessee, before she opted to play basketball at Grambling State, a Historically Black College in Louisiana, before transferring to Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College.
Carter showed Monday why her mind-set is an ideal fit with Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer, scoring nine points, grabbing four rebounds, and making two steals in MSU's 75-44 victory against Shorter in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum.
Team-high scoring honors went to junior center Martha Alwal (17 points, 13 rebounds), who led three players in double figures. Freshman Breanna Richardson (16 points, five rebounds, six steals) and junior guard Kendra Grant (11 points, five rebounds) also reached double digits, but it was hard to deny anyone made a bigger first impression than the junior college transfer Carter.
"She is a cerebral player," Schaefer said. "She is very intelligent, high energy. We recruited her because of what I just told you."
Carter played an integral role on Trinity Valley's national championship team. She didn't impact the game because she is the biggest or fastest player. At 5-foot-9, Carter is a solid tweener who can play both backcourt positions and even go down to the low block and guard a post player, which she did on occasion Monday.
But Carter's tenacity makes up for what she might lack in size or quickness.
"She is a winner," Schaefer said. "She does the little things, she plays hard. She got us going in transition and got some steals on the perimeter. She is a high-energy, cerebral kid. I am glad we got her and she is on her team. She is really going to add to our perimeter."
Schafer likes having Carter on the wing because it allows Grant to play the shooting guard, which he feels is her best position. Carter's presence also will allow freshman Dominique Dillingham (nine points, four rebounds) to play the two and give the Bulldogs an added scoring threat from the perimeter. Carter feels she can be a scoring threat, too, but if given a choice she would prefer to terrorize opponents and create offense of her defense.
Carter best showcased her offense and her annoying, in-your-face defense in the first half. She scored her first points after grabbing an offensive rebound and driving to the basket. On the next possession, she aggressively took the ball to the hoop, drew the foul, and converted 1 of 2 free throws. After a brief rest, Carter returned and went spin cycle in the lane for a layup. On the next possession, she nearly stole the ball in the half-court set.
Later in the half, Carter's pressure resulted in a steal that she corralled and took hard to the basket only to miss after she was fouled. The failed conversion didn't sit well with Carter, who smacked her hands together with an emphatic clap.
"I think she fits in," Schaefer said. "I think that is why she chose us. She knew she would fit in and that she could play the way I wanted her to play and do the things I wanted her to do. It fits in with her motor and it fits in with her mid-set and her mode. Coach (Elena) Lovato played that way, so she knew she would fit into a system very, very well. All of that fits into the chemistry she provides us and what she brings to the table."
In the final five minutes of the first half, Carter evoked memories of a lockdown defender -- possibly Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis -- when she reached into the passing lane to deflect a ball and tracked it into the backcourt like she wasn't going to be denied. She finally retrieved the ball and was fouled again on a drive to the basket. She hit both free throws to give MSU a 29-11 lead with 3 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in the half.
Carter said she tries to do "everything" with a purpose in part because she always plays at 100 percent. Now that she is a Bulldog, there is another motivation.
"Like I told you before, Schaefer is in the back of my head at all times, so if I feel I am not giving 100 percent I think, 'Schaefer, Schaefer, Schaefer,' " Carter said. "I think about practicing and 'Mount Schaefer' (the stadium steps in Humphrey Coliseum the players have to run in practice after making a mistake) and 16s and 34s (timed running drills)."
Carter admitted after the game she doesn't consider herself a strong offensive player and that her identity is as a defensive sparkplug. Still, as a wing player, she will be asked to be a threat. On one possession, she used a high screen on the left wing and pulled up and missed an elbow jump shot. As teams get to know about Carter, they are going to sluff off her, deny her driving ability, and make her hit from the outside. Carter's ability to do that will dictate how well defenses will be able to defend post players like Alwal, who is 6-4, and how they might be able to pack the middle of the court.
But challenges like that don't faze Carter. She said she knows her role and isn't going to force things on offense just so she finishes with a gaudy stat line. She said she feels comfortable as a defender first in part because chose to come to MSU to play for Schaefer, who she called "the No. 1 defensive coach in the country."
Richardson, who looked as comfortable as Carter did on defense on offense, said Carter's work ethic and mentality already are rubbing off on the rest of the team.
"Savannah is amazing on defense," Richardson said. "She is always hard-nosed. She is always getting on the floor for loose balls. She is our spark in our defense. If there is anything down, you just look for Savannah to make a play and everyone is hype in practice. She is so competitive on defense that it makes you want to become a better defensive player. Her influence on us defensively is amazing."
MSU will open its season at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Houston at Hofheinz Pavilion. It will play host to Jackson State at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 in its home opener.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.