February 18, 2013 8:31:48 AM
STARKVILLE -- The second half again proved to be the undoing for the Mississippi State University women's basketball team.
After a solid first half and an aggressive flurry to start the final 20 minutes, MSU hit only three field goals in a nine-minute stretch en route to a 63-41 loss to LSU before a crowd of 1,405 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Danielle Ballard had a game-high 19 points to go with seven rebounds and four steals to help LSU (15-10, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) earn its first back-to-back league victories this season. It also marked the first time the Lady Tigers have won back-to-back games on the road.
Carnecia Williams (13 points, eight rebounds) was the only player in double figures for MSU (11-14, 3-9), which lost its second-straight game after a two-game winning streak. Like in a 65-51 loss to the University of Mississippi on Thursday, MSU allowed the game to slip away in the second half. LSU outscored MSU 35-16 and held it to a season-low 18.8 percent (6 of 32) in the second half. The Bulldogs shot 24.6 percent (15 of 61) for the game, their second-worst percentage of the season, and the fourth time this season they have shot under 30 percent. It also marked the eighth time this season MSU has scored 47 points or less in a SEC game, and tied for the second-lowest output in a league game this season.
"It was just lack of execution," said MSU junior guard Candace Foster, who had a career-high four points and matched her career-high with three assists in her eighth start of the season. "I think we just kind of started rushing things because the point deficit began to expand on a little bit, so we just tried to get ourselves back in the game."
Foster started in place of junior point guard Katia May. MSU coach Vic Schaefer attributed the lineup change to "spotty" point guard play of late and for issues leading up the game he wasn't pleased with. The Bulldogs tried to use other perimeter threats against LSU's zone defense, which stretched to the wings to cover shooters like Darriel Gaynor (2 of 7, six points) and Jessy Ward (0 of 6, zero points). Ward played 17 minutes, her second-most this season, and second time she has reached double digits in the SEC.
All of that came on the heels of a disappointing loss to Ole Miss in which the Rebels held a 38-16 edge and limited the Bulldogs to 24.1 percent shooting in the second half.
"The first half, I thought we were very competitive and I thought it was a very competitive game," Schaefer said. "In the second half, it got away from us. I didn't think we were ready to come out of the gate. That is my fault for keeping them in the locker room too long. You have to give LSU credit. I think they are playing on a mission and with an NCAA tournament bid on their mind."
While MSU has delivered similar shooting performances in the second half in the past two games, Schaefer said the consistent level of effort and intensity his team showed in victories against the University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri has been missing. Schaefer appreciated the effort of Carnecia Williams, who matched her season-high with 36 minutes, and Sherise Williams (five points, six rebounds in 24 minutes).
Carnecia Williams scored inside to cut LSU's lead to 33-29 with 17 minutes, 6 seconds left in the game. LSU slowly pulled away and capitalized on MSU's cold shooting. May's driving basket at the 15:29 mark was the only field goal the Bulldogs hit until the 10:10 mark. By then, LSU had pushed its lead to 50-34. MSU didn't hit another field goal until Williams scored inside with 6:34 to go. She also hit the team's final field goal of the half with 59.5 seconds left.
"It is just focus," Grant said. "I feel like the first Ole Miss game, the Arkansas game, the Missouri game, we were all on the same page and connected. I am not saying we lost it, but we're not where we were. The next couple of days we have to get that focus back in practice and practice hard because the way we practice is the way we play."
Martha Alwal, MSU's leading scorer (12.5 points per game) entering the game, didn't score and had one rebound in 19 minutes. It was her third-fewest minutes in a game this season, and second time she has been held scoreless. She had only one foul and didn't play the final 15 minutes, 51 seconds. Sophomore Kendra Grant, the team's second-leading scorer (12.4 ppg.), fouled out with more than nine minutes to go in the game. She had seven points and five rebounds.
May, who had a career-high 16 points against Missouri, had four points and two rebounds in 12 minutes, her second-fewest this season.
"I think we are teaching life lessons within the game," Schaefer said. "We're teaching lots of different things besides Xs and Ox. It's unfortunate to be in your 25th game of the season and you're still having to deal with those kinds of things. It was a national TV game today and there were certain things that occurred that we weren't very pleased with leading up to this, and then, obviously, we weren't pleased with the way things were going in the ballgame with one of those individuals, so sometimes you have to do something else. That's the direction we went in."
Adrienne Webb added 16 points and six rebounds, while Theresa Plaisance had 14 points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots, and two steals for LSU.
MSU will play host to the University of Alabama at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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