November 18, 2013 10:55:58 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Abner's may have to reconsider its chicken giveaway agreement with Mississippi State if Kendra Grant continues to shoot like she did Sunday afternoon.
The junior guard was 10 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and matched her career-high with 23 points to fuel MSU to a 111-38 victory against New Orleans before a crowd of 2,251 at Humphrey Coliseum.
The 111 points tied the 1976-77 team for MSU's third-most for a game. It also was the Bulldogs' highest scoring output since 1993, when MSU beat Belhaven 115-60 on Nov. 30, 1993.
The 73-point margin of victory also was the program's second-biggest win. MSU beat Judson College 117-35 on Feb. 24, 1986.
Grant was the catalyst. She hit her first seven shots from the field and her first two free throws before she failed to complete a three-point play with 18 minutes, 54 seconds remaining and MSU leading 66-26. Grant hit three more shots from the field before she missed her final two to tie the single-game scoring mark she set vs. Florida on Jan. 10, 2013.
"Kendra Grant was outstanding," MSU second-year head coach Vic Schaefer said. "I was asked in pregame radio that Kendra seems to be pretty good in the second half, what do you attribute her second halves to? My comment was, 'I don't know, but I'd like to see her to do it in the first half. I told her that in pregame and, sure enough, she came out and absolutely was knocking everything down she looked at. That can be her (on a regular basis). We haven't seen her make shots like that. We have seen it a little bit in practice. I just really believe that kid can be that good."
Schaefer said the theme at the team's shootaround before the game was what he heard at church earlier in the day: "You reap what you sow." He said Grant hasn't been perfect adjusting to a new shooting stroke, but he felt she took his pregame encouragement to heart and provided a spark for the rest of the team.
Martha Alwal (17 points, nine rebounds), Dominique Dillingham (15 points, six steals), Breanna Richardson (14), Sherise Williams (11), Katia May (10 points, 11 assists, four steals), and Savannah Carter (10 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, seven steals) also reached double figures to help push MSU to 3-0. The double-doubles were the first ones for Carter and May.
"I think the more she does things like tonight is the more confidence she will have," Schaefer said. "Everybody fed on it. The team heard the same pregame, so here she is really taking it and running with it and I think kids see that and they go, 'He talked to me about rebounding and doing the little things,' well I am going to rebound and do the little things. It all comes together."
Schaefer said Grant used to shoot right-eye dominant. He first talked to Grant last season about tweaking her shooting form. He said it has been a work in progress to get Grant to understand a right-handed shooter is left-eye dominant and that she needed to move her hands to get a better view of the rim.
"She used to shoot it off her forehead. That means she is looking out of her right eye, so you have to move it to here (the side of her head)," Schaefer said. "This is your natural right-handed (shooting position), so you have to train that left eye. It has been a work in progress with her.
"With Kendra, it is just a matter of moving it over and repetition. She has worked hard on that."
Grant hit shots in a variety of ways but nearly all of them had a textbook cocked elbow and release that gave her perfect rotation out of her hand. She started her day with a jump shot in the corner and followed it with back-to-back 3-pointers from May. She then showcased her mid-range game by putting the ball on the floor and hitting a pull-up jumper. Things were so good for Grant that she even connected on a layup down the middle of the lane when she went off the wrong foot.
"I took (coach's words) to heart," Grant said. "I just wanted to come out and show him I can put two halves together and start off strong in the first half. The basket was wide for me today."
Grant said she typically shoots 500 shots in practice to help her perfect the shooting stroke. Through three games, Grant is shooting 54 percent from the field. She entered the season as a 32.1-percent career shooter.
"He tells me even in practice if I have an open shot and (I don't take it), he will tell me he is more mad that I didn't shoot than if I would have shot it and missed it," Grant said. "I just try not to hesitate and just make shots."
Grant knows she will face tighter defenses as the season progresses. New Orleans (0-3) extended its defense at the start of the second half in an attempt to deny Grant perimeter looks. She still was quick to the trigger thanks in part to good ball movement that found her in the corner and on the wings. When challenged, she also dribbled out of trouble or off screens and pulled up for mid-range shots.
"Her early play really got everybody going on offense," Schaefer said. "She opened the game by making everything that really gave everybody some confidence. She had been playing really well in the second half of games this year. I told her in the pregame, we wanted to see that for both halves."
Carter said the bench gets pretty "crunk" when they see a teammate shooting so well. Unfortunately, Carter said she and her teammates on the sideline may have jinxed Grant and cost her the perfect shooting run.
Fittingly, though, Grant's ninth basket helped MSU eclipse the 75-point mark for the second home game in a row, which meant that fans in attendance could redeem their tickey for a buy-one, get-one-free chicken combo at the Starkville Abner's
Like Carter, who has said Schaefer's words motivate her to hustle all of the time, Grant hopes Schaefer's words stay in her head and help her set the tone for the team in the first half and don't allow her to wait until the final 20 minutes.
"I didn't want to be a one-half-type player," Grant said. "I just wanted to come out strong in the first half.
MSU will play host to Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. Thursday. Bully's Kidz Kourt and the doors open an hour prior to tip.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitrter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.