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Alwal, MSU rally past Ole Miss

 

Adam Minichino

 

STARKVILLE -- Martha Alwal and the Mississippi State women's basketball team showed Sunday they can deliver when coach Vic Schaefer has had enough. 

 

The second-year MSU head coach didn't rant and rave in the huddle during a 30-second timeout with his team facing its biggest margin -- a 13-point deficit -- against Ole Miss with 13 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the game. Instead, Schaefer declared "Enough is enough" and encouraged his players to get to work. 

 

Alwal and the Bulldogs obliged their coach, rallying from a sluggish beginning to tie it in regulation and carrying that momentum into overtime to earn a 72-70 victory against the Rebels before a crowd of 3,155 at Humphrey Coliseum. 

 

The crowd was the second-largest of the season (3,169 to Tennessee) and the ninth-biggest in program history. 

 

Schaefer credited Ole Miss for playing with a "ton of energy" and said his team, which he acknowledged might be a little tired, took a long time to get going. He praised the crowd and the energy in The Hump for sparking his players. 

 

"This is what college athletics is all about," Schaefer said. "Let's face it, for 28 minutes we stunk it up, but they answered the bell. That says a lot about the kids in our locker room, and they have been like that all year." 

 

Many of those fans went home happy thanks in part to Alwal, a 6-foot-4 junior center, who used her height advantage in the post to match her career high with 25 points and set a career-best mark with 23 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive end.  

 

"I have challenged Martha for a week to go and do what she did tonight," Schaefer said. "You have no idea how hard it is to do what she did tonight in the Southeastern Conference." 

 

Alwal's final basket -- an offensive rebound putback -- off a missed 3-pointer by Jerica James gave MSU the lead for good, 70-68, with 3:58 to play. Dominique Dillingham kicked the lead to four with a pull-up jumper with one second left on the shot clock to set the stage for a wild finish. After MSU came up empty on its last three possessions, Ole Miss (10-18, 1-13) had its share of good looks in the extra session, including a layup in transition by Diara Moore and two 3-pointers by Gracie Frizzell. The second try was an airball from the right wing with two seconds left after MSU's Katia May missed a rushed shot with the shot clock running down on the previous possession. 

 

The nail-biter helped MSU erase the sting of a 72-64 overtime loss to Alabama on Thursday. Alwal, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds in the loss, played 45 minutes for the second-consecutive game. She also had three blocked shots and attempted a career high 21 shots from the field (nine made field goals). 

 

"Coach always challenges me to get 20 rebounds a game, and a lot of time I take plays off and I don't crash (the boards)," Alwal said. "Today, I really tried to crash every single time a ball was going to the rim. As far as the points, I think I was bigger than the entire team, so I took advantage of that, too." 

 

Junior Savannah Carter (10 points) was the only other player in double figures for MSU, which improved to 18-10 and 5-9 in the Southeastern Conference. Breanna Richardson and Kendra Grant each had nine points, while Dillingham added eight points and six rebounds and James had seven points, three rebounds, five assists, and two steals as part of a balanced attack that required as many contributions as possible to avoid a season sweep to Ole Miss. 

 

Ole Miss built a 55-42 lead that forced Schaefer called timeout in an attempt to energize his team.  

 

"At some point what did I say? Enough is enough," Schaefer said. "I said that in that timeout. Whenever it is enough for you let me know and we will get back in the game. That was it at that point. They answered the bell." 

 

Six MSU players scored in the stretch following that timeout to help put the Bulldogs tie the game at 64 on a 3-pointer by Dillingham with 3:47 to go. Alwal's two free throws with 1:52 left were MSU's final points in regulation. A jumper by Valencia McFarland over Carter and a bank shot by Tia Faleru off a pass from McFarland with 49.7 seconds remaining set the stage for OT. 

 

McFarland had 15 of her career-high 29 points in the first half. She went 3 of 4 from 3-point range as part of the Rebels' 7-for-9 showing from the behind the arc. Just as MSU struggled handling McFarland and Faleru (19 points, 14 rebounds, three steals) in an 87-85 loss to Ole Miss in January in Oxford, the Bulldogs had difficulty containing McFarland, the speedy 5-4 point guard. When MSU went under high screens, she calmly connected from distance. When MSU went over the screens, McFarland used her quickness to beat defenders around the corner and to the basket or she kicked to teammates, who usually were open behind the 3-point line. 

 

"I knew when they went on runs the crowd was going to get into it,so I had to come down and be aggressive on offense and score and try to get the crowd out of it," McFarland said. "I was just taking what they were giving me." 

 

Unfortunately, McFarland (11 of 25 from the field, 5 of 6 from 3-point range) missed three shots down the stretch and a jumper in the lane with five seconds to go that could have won the game. "We got some great looks (in the half) and missed some looks we were making," Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said. "We didn't make the shots at the rim we needed to make. We played with a lot of toughness, but we have to be tougher at the rim and scoring those baskets." 

 

Ole Miss finished 9 of 16 from 3-point range (56.3 percent) for its highest percentage of the season. The nine treys tied for second-most in a game this season. 

 

MSU countered that with 19 offensive rebounds, a 21-of-25 performance at the free throw line, and a 27-11 edge in second-chance points. Those statistics helped MSU overcome an afternoon in which it shot 33.8 percent (23 of 68) from the field. 

 

Schaefer also credited the defense of Carter on McFarland, calling it the "key to the game." Carter shadowed McFarland the final 20 minutes and, for the most part, kept her in front of her in player-to-player defense, cutting down her open looks at the basket and ability to find open teammates when help defenders came to stop her. 

 

"McFarland is a great player," Carter said. "I like challenges, and I liked when coach put me on (No. 3), and I knew when I was on (her) I had to defend her and go on every ball screen and know when to go under. She is such a great player. I love guarding her. I told my teammates don't come off the shooters because she is going to throw up some crazy shots." 

 

n Alabama 66, Vanderbilt 62: At Nashville, Tenn., Junior Daisha Simmons had a team-high 21 points, six rebounds, and five assists Sunday to lead the Crimson Tide to their first victory at Vanderbilt. 

 

Freshman Ashley Williams (18 points, six rebounds) and senior Shafontaye Myers (16 points) also scored in double figures to help Alabama (13-14, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) snap a 12-game losing skid in the series dating back to the 2004 season. 

 

The six wins in conference are the most for Alabama since it went 7-7 in 2001-02. Junior Briana Hutchen had a team-best eight rebounds. 

 

Christina Foggie had 22 for Vanderbilt (18-9, 7-7). 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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