December 31, 2009 8:03:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- The contact would have knocked a lesser guard to the ground.
But not much stops Armelie Lumanu when she is in her element.
The Mississippi State senior swooped in on the right wing in the second half Wednesday night, absorbed the hit to her shoulder by Alcorn State''s Amanda Davidson, maintained her concentration, and finished a layup. She then walked to the free-throw line and completed the three-point play.
The effort capped a career-high 29-point evening for Lumanu in MSU''s 108-67 victory before a crowd of 1,041 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Lumanu shot a career-best 11-for-13 (84.6 percent) from the field and added eight rebounds, five assists, and two steals in 32 minutes to help the Lady Bulldogs (9-4) set a season-high for points. The 108-point showing tied for the sixth-highest output in the program''s history.
Senior guard Alexis Rack added 21 points and nine assists, Chanel Mokango had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Tysheka Grimes and Diamber Johnson each had 10 points to help MSU close its non-conference slate in impressive fashion.
A 57.7-percent shooting performance (second-best this season) should give MSU confidence as it prepares to play Sunday at Auburn (2 p.m.) in its Southeastern Conference opener.
Things will get a lot tougher for Lumanu and the Lady Bulldogs in the next 16 games, but the players feel they are gearing up for the challenges that await.
"We''re getting all of the kinks out from Christmas break, and just getting back into the flow of things," Rack said. "We had some good practices over the break. I think it was a good game to come back to."
Lumanu especially enjoyed the evening. The athletic 5-foot-9 guard thrives in an open-court game. She often is one of the fastest players on the court, and that speed is magnified when she gets out in transition. Whether she is pushing the basketball and finding teammates for open shots or sliding or slithering to the basket for a score, Lumanu is used to taking hits in the paint or on layups.
She said Wednesday night was one of those games where she felt she was in "the zone."
"Last game (a loss to Xavier) I didn''t play well and I just talked to myself and said my team needs me," said Lumanu, whose previous career-high was 24 points.
Lumanu''s effort pushed her field goal percentage for the season to 52.1 percent, the best on the team. In an 81-60 loss to Xavier on Dec. 20, Lumanu made her only field goal as the Lady Bulldogs shot 32.1 percent from the field.
A year ago, Lumanu didn''t attempt a shot in a loss against Xavier. Her efforts against SEC teams this season will play a huge role in determining the Lady Bulldogs'' fortunes. The junior college transfer shot 44 percent from the field last season, but only 37 percent in the SEC.
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said Lumanu showed better balance Wednesday night, which she feels helped her bounce back.
"We want to put her in position to post up if it is a smaller guard and they''re playing a man-to-man defense," Fanning-Otis said. "She needs to be able to penetrate and make things happen, which is why we''re playing her (at point guard). Hopefully she can get the ball down the floor quickly and put other people into position to shoot great outside shots or get the ball to the rim."
Fanning-Otis said SEC play is so physical and so demanding that the Lady Bulldogs will need to remain focused if they want to compete for a regular-season title. She said the development of that mind-set begins in practice, and that Lumanu has been setting the tone there.
Fanning-Otis also said Lumanu is doing a better job recognizing what is a good shot. Several times Wednesday night she passed up open 3-pointers and worked the offense or drove the ball to the basket for an easy shot or was fouled. She made that strategy work by hitting 7 of 9 from the free-throw line.
"Armelie is a very, very unselfish player, and she really likes to get the ball to the right people," Fanning-Otis said. "We want to get as many layups as we can. We want to take as many uncontested shots as we can. We want to find a great shot, not just take a good shot. ... You can gain confidence from this, and it is something you have to expect every game."
Kiara Ruffin paced Alcorn State (0-9) with 14 points.
NOTES: Junior guard Ashlie Billingslea didn''t dress out Wednesday night. Fanning-Otis said Billingslea tweaked a muscle and wasn''t available. She said she will be re-evaluated to determine her status for Sunday. ... Senior forward Bethany Washington matched her season-high for minutes with 14. She also had a season-best three assists, one off her career high. ... Senior center/forward Channa Campbell had a career-high nine points (4-for-4 shooting) in seven minutes. ... MSU had a season-high 26 assists.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.