December 1, 2013 12:56:29 AM
ESTERO, Fla. -- For a second-straight night, the Mississippi State women's basketball team defeated a previously-undefeated opponent in the Gulf Coast Showcase.
A huge first 15 minutes helped push MSU past James Madison 65-52 in a semifinal round game of the three-day event at the Germain Arena.
MSU (7-0) will face Middle Tennessee State (3-3) at 4 p.m. today for the tournament championship.
"It was our best game of the year," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "I like how we threw the first punch and never really took one, other than maybe a jab. Really proud of how hard we played to beat a team, which will win 20-plus games this year.
"We represented Mississippi State and the entire Southeastern Conference the way you want to when you play in a prestigious event such as this."
Martha Alwal led the way with 19 points. Alwal had four blocked shots to tie Chanel Mokango for the all-time MSU career blocked shots record with 180 blocks.
"I really came in not thinking I would be in the record books for anything here at State," Alwal said. "However, to be in the record books now is pretty awesome. We are 7-0 and since I have been here, we have never started with this many wins.
"We normally win like 13 or 14 games a year, so to already being 7-0 makes all of us very excited."
Held scoreless in Friday night's 71-62 win over Grand Canyon, Kendra Grant bounced back strong with 16 points. Katia May added 14 points.
After spotting JMU (5-1) the initial basket of the game, MSU responded with the next 14 points in the five-minute stretch.
The strong defensive play was a sign of things to come. Already among the nation's best in field goal percentage defense, MSU held JMU to 25 percent shooting in the first half and less than 30 percent for the game.
After JMU closed within nine at 16-7, MSU responded with the game's next six points, including back-to-back baskets by Grant.
"I am really proud of how Kendra and Savannah (Carter) answered the bell," Schaefer said. "They didn't play well last night but I thought both of them brought a different level and a smarter level tonight.
"Kendra can get into that groove where she makes four of five shots in a row. When that happens, we are going to keep feeding her."
MSU led by 15 twice in the first half and led 37-24 at the intermission.
The Bulldogs quickly ran the lead to 17 in the early stages of the second half only to see the Dukes close within nine at 45-36 with 13:46 left. Alwal, Grant and Carter followed with successive baskets to move the Maroon and White out of danger.
The lead would grow to as many as 19 down the stretch.
MSU was 21 of 45 from the field (46.7 percent), 2 of 6 shots from 3-point range (33.3), and 21 of 31 shots from the free-throw line (67.7). JMU was 16 of 55 from the field (29.1), 1 of 11 from 3-point range (9.1), and 19 of 21 from the free-throw line (90.5).
James Madison held a 38-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 17 turnovers, while the Dukes had eight assists and 21 turnovers.
Alwal finished with a team-high eight rebounds, while Carter had six points, four rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes.
Toia Giggetts led JMU with 16 points, while Jazmon Gwathmey had 13.