February 10, 2010 12:50:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Tysheka Grimes nearly returned to the lineup in style Sunday afternoon.
After missing the past 10 games with a plantar fasciitis tear in her right foot, the senior guard/forward drained a 3-pointer with 33 seconds remaining in the first overtime against the University of Florida. The trey gave the Lady Bulldogs a 69-68 lead, only to see Florida''s Lonnika Thompson answer with a 3-pointer of her own.
MSU''s Alexis Rack made two free throws with seven seconds left to play to help send the game to a second overtime, where Florida eventually outlasted the Lady Bulldogs 82-80.
Even though the loss prevented Grimes from adding a game-winner to her resume, her performance (10 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes) showed she can be a contributor down the stretch.
"It did surprise me because coach said she was going to ease me back," Grimes said. "She told me the whole week to remain positive, and when I got in I wasn''t nervous. I just tried to help the team win. It was clutch time."
Grimes said her foot feels about at 95 percent, which is a good sign considering MSU (15-9, 6-5) has a key game at 6 p.m. Thursday at South Carolina (13-10, 6-5).
MSU and South Carolina are two of four teams tied for fifth in the ultra-competitive SEC. The top four teams earn byes for the first round of the SEC tournament.
Each team also would like to finish as high in the league as it can to strengthen its bid for the NCAA tournament.
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said earlier this month that the return of Grimes wasn''t going to be a magic elixir. Still, the return of an experienced player who brings energy and a positive mind-set only can help as the Lady Bulldogs prepare for the last five games of the regular season.
"I felt like she made a positive contribution (against Florida)," Fanning-Otis said. "She will be in the regular rotation."
Grimes said she felt pain in her foot Sunday but that she has a high pain tolerance and didn''t let her affect her. When she first was injured in December, Grimes said she felt a strong pop on the bottom of her foot. She felt a stabbing pain in her foot in the weeks after she was diagnosed and forced to wear a protective boot.
Grimes improved and soon didn''t need to wear the boot, and her return was expected to come Jan. 31 against Kentucky. But Grimes said she re-injured her foot in practice and that Fanning-Otis opted not to play her in a game without some practice time to help her ease back in.
"In the beginning it was pretty hard," Grimes said of how she dealt with the injury. "I had to learn to stay positive and contribute any way I could to my teammates. When I saw different people step up it made me feel even better. "
Grimes is tied for third on the team in scoring (11.4 points per game) and is tied for the lead in rebounding (6.9). Her athleticism and energy give the Lady Bulldogs another versatile player they can use to create matchup problems.
Grimes'' ability to stretch defenses with the 3-point shot also could free up scoring opportunities for Rack, who is in a shooting slump from the field. Rack was 3 of 21 (2 of 17 from 3-point range) against Florida.
Grimes played with and against Rack in high school and on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit in Louisiana. She hopes her return will help ease Rack''s shooting woes and provide the spark the team needs to close the season with momentum. She said she saw things while she was on the bench that the team can do to help it come together.
"I tried to talk to everyone a lot and get them to try to be more consistent," Grimes said. "When we lost, we basically lost because of our work ethic. When we won, we won because of it. Hopefully, I can bring as much (energy) as I can to help this team and to help us win and be more successful."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.