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Second-quarter defensive surge lifts No. 4 MSU


Mississippi State’s Jordan Danberry attacks the basket as Alabama’s Jasmine Walker defends Sunday.

Mississippi State’s Jordan Danberry attacks the basket as Alabama’s Jasmine Walker defends Sunday. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch


Adam Minichino



STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer's head went down and he trudged toward the huddle. 


The Mississippi State women's basketball coach had just watched Alabama's Quanetria Bolton grab an open rebound on the weak side and lay it in just before the end of the first quarter. 


Schaefer's mood didn't change at the start of the second quarter, either, as Hannah Cook hit two free throws 15 seconds in to give Alabama a six-point lead. 


That's when Schaefer went to his bench in an attempt to affect a change. 


Jordan Danberry and Jazzmun Holmes helped turn the game back to the Bulldogs. 


Buoyed by an energized defensive effort in the second quarter, No. 4 MSU turned the momentum en route to a 75-61 victory in a Southeastern Conference game before a crowd of 9,010 at Humphrey Coliseum. 


"Our first quarter was obviously very special," Schaefer said. "I was really disappointed with our first quarter, but Jazz and Jordan came in in the second quarter and really made a difference and played extremely well and impacted the game." 


Holmes, who entered the game at the start of the second quarter, and Danberry, who came in at the 9-minute, 45-second mark, combined to score only four points as MSU improved to 19-0 and 5-0 in the SEC. But their defensive intensity sparked a 28-9 uprising that helped the Bulldogs remain in sole possession of first place in the conference standings. MSU also stands with Connecticut and Louisville as the nation's only undefeated teams. 


Danberry, a 5-foot-8 transfer from Arkansas, had two assists, two steals, and two fouls in nine minutes in the second quarter. She split her time guarding Hannah Cook and Meoshonti Knight and helped slow Cook, who scored eight points in the first quarter and was poised to add to that total following the free throws. Cook didn't score after the two free throws in seven minutes in the second quarter. Alabama had 10 turnovers and was 3-for-9 from the field in the frame. 


"She is a good defensive player," Cook said of Danberry, "and she got in our grill a little bit, but I don't think that affected us too much. I think it is just a building block and we need to learn from the second quarter." 


Danberry finished with a season-high three steals in her sixth game of the season in which she played double-digit minutes. Her only points came on a layup off a weave with 1:43 to play when she attacked the basket with her trademark quickness. Schaefer has highlighted Danberry's athleticism and ability to get to her spots on the floor several times since she joined the active roster Dec. 10, 2017, against Little Rock. He also has cautioned Danberry against committing too many turnovers, which he did again Sunday when he pointed out she had two. 


Still, Schaefer knows he has a valuable defensive weapon in a league filled with talented guards. 


"Jordan has worked really hard to be in that moment," Schaefer said. "I thought she was really special today and again impacted the game when we were really struggling." 


Danberry said she realized Schaefer wanted her and Holmes to pressure the basketball, so she said she tried to "get in her stance" and do what her coach wanted. She produced immediate results, as she forced a steal against Cook by deflecting a pass to the right of the top of the key. The turnover led to a basket by Holmes. 


"Everything else just fell into place, especially playing with Jazz. She brought a lot of energy as well," Danberry said. "I felt like I brought a lot of energy to the game. My teammates did the rest, though." 


Danberry said she has been working on finishing and her mid-range game in an effort to gain more playing time. 


Schaefer praised Danberry's decision-making and said he hopes to get Danberry more minutes because she can do so many things to help the game. 


Cook (game- and career-high 25 points) said the Crimson Tide wanted to move the basketball on offense and be patient against what they expected was going to be an aggressive defense. She said the key was taking good shots. She did her part by going 8-for-10 from the field, including a 5-of-5 from 3-point range. It was the fifth time this season she shot 50 percent or better from the field. 


Cook's performance was part of a day in which Alabama shot 52.4 percent (22-for-42) from the field. It was the second time this season MSU has allowed an opponent to eclipse the 50-percent mark from the field. Oregon (56.1 percent) was the other. 


Alabama coach Kristy Curry didn't recall Danberry's effort immediately after the game and didn't intend any disrespect by it. She credited MSU for a "great effort across the board." She felt the Bulldogs "took it up at all five spots." 


"Once we got to the open window I thought we were rushing our shots," Curry said. "If you can't get to the free-throw line against these guys -- to come in here and shoot only 13 free throws -- tells me we weren't distinct in what we were trying to do. We were sideways or backwards and you have to be from rim to rim on these guys with getting open without the ball and with the ball." 


Cook's career day moved her up to No. 10 on Alabama's all-time scoring list with 1,280 points. Sophomore Jasmine Walker (10 points) was the only other Crimson Tide player in double figures. She had four rebounds and three steals. 


Curry thought her team did a great job being aggressive in building a 20-16 lead after the first quarter. But she said the Crimson Tide (13-5, 3-2) grew "very passive" in the second quarter, which she said the Bulldogs played a part in. She also lamented the fact her team committed a season-high 26 turnovers that led to a season-high 35 points off turnovers allowed. All 11 Alabama players who saw action had at least one turnover. 


"I loved our half-court defense," Curry said. "I thought we understood tendencies, but you can't defend a turnover, and we really struggled defensively to get stops when we turned the ball over." 


In addition to a 23-point edge in points off turnovers, the Bulldogs also cashed in on a 26-2 advantage in second-chance points. MSU, which shot 42.9 percent from the field (27-for-63) attempted 21 more shots than Alabama. It was the fourth time this season an opponent has had a higher shooting percentage from the field than MSU. 


McCowan said Danberry and Holmes play key defensive roles in practice, so she wasn't surprised to see them spark a rally that turned the tide. 


"When they come into the game, we know we're about to take it to another level," McCowan said. "Playing behind them two, we see them playing hard on the ball and it makes us get in a stance, get down, help the helper, and do the little things." 


Victoria Vivians led the Bulldogs with 21 points. She had 12 points in the second quarter, including 10 in a row, while McCowan added 19 points. McCowan had eight points in the second quarter. Roshunda Johnson (14 points) also scored in double figures. McCowan recorded her 13th double-double with a game-high 16 rebounds. 


MSU will be off Thursday. Alabama will play host to No. 17 Texas A&M at 7 p.m. Thursday at in Coleman Coliseum. 


n NOTES: After the game, Schaefer applauded the birth of assistant coach Dionnah Jackson-Durrett's baby girl, Laila Renee Durrett. At 6 pounds, 13 ounces and 20 inches, the baby was born at 11:43 a.m. in Jackson. Schaefer said Jackson-Durrett was supposed to be at the game against Alabama and was going to be induced into labor later Sunday, but he said she went to Jackson to take care of a personal matter. He said he received a call from Jackson-Durrett on Saturday that her water had broken and that she was going to stay in Jackson to have the baby. ... MSU won its 13th-straight home game dating back to last season and moved within a win of matching last season's program-best 20-0 start. ... The crowd of 9,010 was the third largest in the history of the women's program. 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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