November 11, 2012 1:09:30 AM
STARKVILLE -- Todd Buchanan knows how passionate Vic Schaefer is about basketball.
In many ways, the longtime friends are a lot alike. They demand a lot from their players, don't allow them to settle for anything less than their best, and want them to dictate the tempo when they're on the court.
When their players don't do those things, there are consequences. As members of the Mississippi State University women's basketball team have learned, their punishment is running the steps inside Humphrey Coliseum.
But Buchanan also knows the other side of Schaefer, the side he showed briefly Friday night when he became emotional talking about the effort his players gave in a 72-66 victory against Buchanan's University of Houston in the season opener for both teams before a crowd of 1,234 at The Hump.
"When you do a really good job recruiting, and you get kids who come in and they really, truly know you care about them, they're going to fight for you every day and every night," Buchanan said. "You're going to be able to have some tough love with them, and they're going to be able to get over it real quick and have a short memory.
"I think that is the biggest thing when you inherit programs. You get a job for a reason. When you change that culture of showing kids how much you care day in and day out, and you talk the talk and walk the walk with them, I think you have a great, great foundation."
Thanks to the play of Martha Alwal and Kendra Grant, Schaefer and his coaching staff took that first step. Alwal, a 6-foot-4 sophomore center, had career-highs of 23 points and 18 rebounds (11 offensive), while Grant, a 5-11 sophomore guard, had career-highs of 22 points and nine rebounds. Alwal and Grant saw the most minutes of any of MSU's returning players. Their hustle, tenacity, and ability to step out of their comfort zone and take ownership of the team drew praise from Schaefer and caused the veteran coach to compliment all of his players for the work they have done to improve.
"I am awfully proud of our kids," Schaefer said. "I thought they competed. We talked about being an SEC team, about playing hard, about being a tough, physical, aggressive basketball team. I thought we showed that tonight. I am proud of their grit and their determination."
Schaefer spent 15 years as an assistant and as an associate head coach at the University of Arkansas and at Texas A&M. The victory was his first as a head coach since he worked at Sam Houston State from 1990-97.
MSU earned the victory thanks in part to a 65-39 rebounding edge. The 65 rebounds were the most by MSU since it had 71 on Nov. 13, 2009, against the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. MSU also nearly matched the number of free throws (34) it had in that game (37). The 25-of-34 effort from the free-throw line was especially pleasing to Schaefer because MSU hit more free throws than Houston attempted (11 of 15).
Alwal's offensive rebound led to a three-point play that gave MSU the lead for good, 52-49, with 9 minutes, 44 seconds remaining. Houston cut the lead to one point once and two points, 62-60, on a 3-pointer by Marché Amerson with 3:40 to play. But Darriel Gaynor (eight points, six rebounds) hit a 3-pointer with 2:30 to go that pushed the lead to 66-60. MSU hit 6 of 10 free throws in the final 1:22 to seal the deal.
Porshe Landry had 16 points to lead three Houston players in double figures.
Buchanan, who earned Conference USA Coach of the Year honors in 2010-11, is trying to build Houston back after an injury-plagued 3-25 campaign last season. With six freshmen and 10 newcomers, Buchanan knows his program, which will move to the Big East Conference in 2013-14, needs time to come together.
Schaefer is in a similar situation. He has said repeatedly that the Bulldogs -- the team no longer uses the nickname Lady Bulldogs -- are a "work in progress" and that the players need time to adopt the defensive principles and a more aggressive mind-set that will help them play the kind of defense he wants to play. Buchanan believes Schaefer's work at Arkansas, where he helped the program reach the Final Four, and at Texas A&M, which won the national title in 2011, provide instant credibility. He feels that résumé combined with Schaefer's work ethic and ability to create a family atmosphere in the program will pay dividends.
"He has done an amazing job in a short period of time with what he has inherited," Buchanan said. "I really, really think this program is going to be in phenomenal, phenomenal shape with his tremendous leadership."
Buchanan also feels the Bulldogs will learn Schaefer is consistent and genuine in his approach on and off the floor. He said Schaefer is like him in that he wears his emotions on his sleeve, but it isn't an act because he cares for his players. Once the Bulldogs take that to heart, he believes they will be able to play even harder and even better than they did in the season opener.
"When you're that consistent (with your behavior), the kids see it, they know it, they believe it," Buchanan said. "When you believe, there becomes trust. When you have the belief and the trust, you can have the family atmosphere he is building right now that they buy in and they can have that family trust and love for each other. Obviously he gets emotional. I would be emotional, too. It is the first game with a new program and they get a huge, huge win. It also gives him building blocks for him to show them that if they continue to bring it every day, you continue to show that effort, this is going to be the result."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.