February 21, 2014 11:21:44 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The perseverance, fight, and strength of will the Mississippi State women's basketball team showcased in an upset of Vanderbilt last week were on display again Thursday night.
The only problem for MSU was its opponent used those same qualities to earn an all-important Southeastern Conference victory.
Shafontaye Myers hit a 3-pointer that gave Alabama the lead for good and propelled it to a 72-64 overtime victory against MSU before a crowd of 2,415 at Foster Auditorium.
Myers hit three 3-pointers and scored a game-high 19 points to lead four players in double figures for Alabama, which improved to 12-14 and 5-8 in the SEC. Ashley Williams (18 points), Sharin Rivers (18), and Daisha Williams (11) also scored in double figures, as the Crimson Tide drained 7 of 14 3-pointers (50 percent) for their highest percentage of the season.
Martha Alwal led MSU (17-10, 4-9) with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while Kendra Grant had 14 points for the Bulldogs, who had four players foul out. MSU committed a season-high 31 fouls that led to Alabama going 23 of 37 (62.2 percent) from the free throw line. The 37 free throw attempts are the most MSU has surrendered this season since it gave up a season-high 39 in the opener against Houston.
MSU coach Vic Schaefer credited Alabama and first-year head coach Kristy Curry for making big shots and making big plays. He said the loss came down to "execution" and his team's inability to make a play at a key juncture to build a lead or to put the game away.
"At the end of the day, execution, our inability to stop dribble penetration, and their ability to get to the rim (were reasons for the loss)," Schaefer said. "We're playing like we're inexperienced, young, and immature. That's who we are. That is our team. We are playing our freshmen a lot of minutes. Both of our four players fouled out and they are freshmen. They're going to learn. They're going to get it, but it is painful to go through some of the things that are going on with our basketball team."
Myers' 3-pointer kicked off the extra session and epitomized the problems MSU tried to overcome. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 62-61 on a layup by Richardson off a nice pass from Alwal, but Richardson fouled out on the ensuing possession after getting called for an illegal screen. As Alabama tacked on to its lead thanks to a leaner by Simmons and two free throws by Myers, Alwal traveled on the next possession. The Crimson Tide's lead grew to 68-61 on a layup by Williams off a pass from Myers with 1:40 to play before Dillingham (1-of-10 shooting, eight points) hit a 3-pointer to cut into the lead. But Chapel fouled out and Alwal and Dillingham missed shots in the lane in the final minute to end any hope for a comeback.
While MSU lamented a loss that dropped it into a tie for 12th place in the league with Arkansas, Alabama moved into a tie for ninth with Auburn. The last four teams in the SEC will play on Wednesday, March 5, first day of the SEC tournament at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.
"I am proud of our kids," Curry said. "The perseverance, the character, the fight down the stretch, finding a way to make plays. I thought we made free throws when we had to."
MSU led 36-30, 42-36, 44-48, 51-47, 53-49 and 55-50 in the second half and had chances to pull away at each juncture. Unfortunately, foul problems to Breanna Richardson (seven points, seven rebounds), Ketara Chapel, Grant, and Jerica James (eight points, four rebounds) limited their effectiveness. An off night by senior point guard Katia May (four points, 2-of-7 shooting in 25 minutes) -- Schaefer used freshman Dominique Dillingham at point guard late in the second half after James fouled out -- coupled with turnovers (23) and a poor shooting night (20 of 61, 32.8 percent) made nearly everything MSU attempted to do a struggle.
MSU especially struggled down the stretch when it had a chance to earn its second SEC road victory of the season. Leading 55-52 and coming out of a timeout with 1 minute, 12 seconds remaining, MSU turned the ball over on the inbounds pass. Williams' steal near midcourt led to an open 3-pointer by Rivers from the left wing that tied the game with 1:05 to go. Rivers' trey was like many on the night, as Alabama capitalized on dribble penetration and passes to the perimeter or took advantage of the Bulldogs' inability to close out or to find shooters.
"We didn't play very smart tonight," Schaefer said. "We take pretty good pride in that. That is the first thing I wrote on the board in the locker room. We just didn't play very smart. It killed us."
Still, MSU had ample time to seal the deal in regulation. The Bulldogs again turned to Alwal, their 6-foot-4 junior center, who hit a leaner with 3.3 seconds to play to lift MSU to a 64-62 upset of then-No. 16 Vanderbilt on Sunday. Against Alabama, Alwal had several great looks but was unable to finish, as she shot 6 of 15 from the field. She added three assists and six blocked shots in 45 minutes. With the game tied, Alwal took a pass on the right block and turned back toward the middle and bumped into a defender. The contact forced her to fall to the floor and she was whistled for a traveling call.
"Nothing was falling for me," Alwal said. "It really is my fault. I had a lot of shots right under the basket and I need to be stronger and finish. It is all on me."
Alabama took advantage as Simmons created a shot and converted a three-point play to give the Crimson Tide a 58-55 lead with 34.5 seconds remaining.
Grant responded by hitting 2 of 3 free throws with 16.2 seconds to go before Simmons hit 1 of 2 free throws to give Alabama a 59-57 cushion with 13.9 left. May's drive off a high screen and down the right lane tied the game with 5.7 seconds to play. Simmons took the inbounds pass and went the length of the court and missed a shot in the lane as time expired.
MSU will play host to Ole Miss at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Humphrey Coliseum. Ole Miss beat MSU 87-85 in overtime on Jan. 23 in Oxford.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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