December 29, 2012 10:53:26 PM
STARKVILLE -- Martha Alwal and Darriel Gaynor made sure Vic Schaefer didn't have to make a spirited halftime speech Saturday night.
Gaynor had 12 of her career-high 15 points in the first 20 minutes, while Alwal had 17 of her 21 in that same stretch to stake the Mississippi State University women's basketball team to an early lead that it turned into an 82-60 victory before a crowd of 1,303 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Gaynor, whose career-high was 11 points entering the game, hit four of her career-best five 3-pointers in 18 minutes in the first half. Alwal did even better, hitting 6 of 7 shots from the field and 5 of 6 from the free-throw line to take the Bulldogs (8-5) to a 48-27 halftime lead. The 48 points are the most MSU has scored in a half this season. The fast start helped MSU post a season-high point total in its fifth consecutive victory, all at home.
Carnecia Williams added 20 points and 10 rebounds for her first career double-double. Coupled with Alwal, who had 12 rebounds, MSU had two players with double-doubles for the first time since 2010.
"I think you have to be happy the way we opened the ballgame," Schaefer said. "It was certainly the best opening 20 minutes we have played all year. I was real pleased with our energy. I thought we threw the first punch, so to speak, and I thought that was real important tonight."
Gaynor reached her career-high by shooting in rhythm in her first start in five games. She hit her first trey off a pass from Jerica James at the 15:07 mark. James fed Gaynor on the next two 3-pointers, one from the left corner and one from the left wing. Gaynor closed her scoring surge with another 3-pointer from the left corner at the 2:43 mark.
"I have definitely been in a shooting slump," Gaynor said. "I just tried to make sure I was calm when I was shooting and not releasing when I was tense. I made sure I held my follow-through and worked on my technique a lot more than I have the past few games."
Alwal showed an aggressiveness that made Schaefer giddy. The 6-foot-4 sophomore center scored her first points on a drive from the top of the key. She followed that by getting into the passing lane at the top of the key and deflecting a pass intended for Sarah McAppion. Alwal tracked down the loose ball and continued down the left lane and was fouled attempting a layup. Schaefer pumped his fist and spun around to the MSU bench and said, "Did you see that? How about that." He slapped five with Alwal and hugged her shoulders when she returned to the bench at the media timeout.
"I just tried to incorporate (Friday) into today," said Alwal, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds in a victory against Northwestern State. "I was still tired from yesterday, but I tried to push through the fatigue."
Those plays were just the start. Alwal powered up for a basket on the block with the 5-8 McAppion on her. She took a lob pass from Katia May and scored on a layup. Alwal also drove the left wing with her left hand and leaned in and finished with her right hand. She then completed a three-point play. It was easily her most aggressive performance on the offensive end as a Bulldog.
"She goes and gets a double-double and she is so solid," Schaefer said. "She still is not going as hard as she can go. She has a tremendous upside, but she goes 8-for-13 and 5 of 6 from the line and has 12 rebounds, 21 points, two assists, no turnovers, two blocks, and one steal in 30 minutes. That is a heck of a stat line."
In the second half, Troy packed in a 2-3 zone and fronted Alwal and had someone behind her. At the first media timeout, Schaefer challenged Alwal to post up tougher and replaced her with Williams. Alwal had only two more field goals in the second half. She added eight rebounds in the final 20 minutes to finish with her sixth double-double of the season, and second in a row.
After the game, Schaefer tapped Alwal on the head and offered her a big smile when he took her out of the game. His reaction was in appreciation for the growth Alwal showed.
"That is a step, a little victory in today's world at Mississippi State in women's basketball," Schaefer said. "You have to celebrate those because sometimes there aren't very many of those. We wanted to celebrate (Alwal's steal) and I wanted her to know how happy I was that she did what I have been asking her to do for three months."
MSU scored the first six points of the second half to push its lead to 54-27 on a layup by Williams off a lob from Alwal. Troy (3-9) cut the deficit to 60-44 on a three-point play by McAppion (career-high 23 points) with 11:17 to go, but MSU scored the next eight points to seal the deal.
Williams, who had 16 points and eight rebounds against Northwestern State, stacked a second solid game back to back. She said she also tried to incorporate the things the Bulldogs have been working on in her play. She also is trying not to baby her left leg. She had a scary moment at the 17:46 mark in the second half when she limped off after falling hard.
"We have been working really hard on rebounding and boxing out, and I think tonight was a really successful night in doing so," Williams said. "It has been kind of tough, but I think I will be fine (with her left leg). I just have to keep getting back up like (Gaynor) is trying to get me to do."
The 60 points were the second-fewest in a game this season for Troy, which entered the game averaging 79.9 points per game. It lost to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock 75-52 on Nov. 29.
MSU will open Southeastern Conference play at 7 p.m. Thursday at Vanderbilt University.
NOTES: MSU had a 27-13 edge in points off turnovers. It also had 18 assists and 18 turnovers, marking the second-straight game it had a positive or even assist-to-turnover ratio. ... MSU's 14 steals were the second most in a game this season, second only to the 17 it had against Jacksonville State. ... MSU also had a 48-35 rebounding edge, marking the first time this season it has had the advantage in that category in back-to-back games this season. ... MSU attempted the most 3-pointers (15) in a game this season. Its five makes, all by Gaynor, matched a season-high. ... Freshman Jessy Ward matched a season-high with six points in six minutes. ... Sophomore Kendra Grant had a career-high five steals. She also had nine points and four rebounds. ... James matched her career-high with five assists.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.