March 4, 2018 12:34:47 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Mississippi State women's basketball team has made a living out of punching first this season.
No. 2 MSU entered its matchup against Kentucky on Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament having built a double-digit lead after one quarter in 15 of its 30 games.
No. 1 seed MSU appeared to be well on its way to adding to that total after Morgan William hit a jump shot to give the Bulldogs an eight-point lead with 3 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the quarter.
But Amanda Paschal's 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds left in the period helped Kentucky to close on a 15-6 run and take a 23-22 lead. The deficit was only the fourth MSU has faced after the first 10 minutes this season.
MSU regrouped in the second quarter by outscoring Kentucky 23-9 to seize the momentum en route to an 81-58 victory at Bridgestone Arena.
"We just had to tell ourselves we weren't playing hard enough, and that is not how the No. 2 team comes out," MSU senior guard Roshunda Johnson said. "I felt like we had to come harder. He said it. Some people weren't playing hard, so we had to keep going and get ourselves together."
Johnson led the charge in the second quarter with nine of her game-high 20 points.
MSU was 8-for-14 from the field, including 5-for-6 from 3-point range.
"We weren't doing what we should be doing and how we do things at Mississippi State," said MSU senior guard Blair Schaefer, who had 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. "We weren't denying passes. We weren't causing them to be uncomfortable with the ball. We were allowing them to see the floor and run their plays, and usually we don't let other teams do that.
"I don't know why we did that, but we are a team that is really good at adjusting to and fixing problems. Since we have a senior team, we learn how to adjust during games. I felt like we did that and figured out how to play harder."
Kentucky (15-17) was 10-for-15 from the field (66.7 percent) in the first quarter. The Wildcats were 14-for-37 from the field (37.8 percent) in the final three quarters.
"It just became an extremely physical game, and that's what happened with all three times," said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, whose team lost to MSU (31-0) three times this season. "We're able to play with them and then they're able to turn up their physicality and just make it real hard to move and cut and just real difficult. We didn't handle it well, turned the ball over, and they're an incredible shooting team and they're shooting the ball really well, so they're awfully tough."
Slow start for William
Morgan William entered the game second in the nation with a 4.2 assist-to-turnover ratio.
In 22 of 30 games, William registered zero or one turnovers, so it was surprising to see William commit two turnovers in six minutes in the first quarter
"I thought Mo was on her heels a little bit," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "There is no reason to turn the ball over against a 2-3 zone. ... We have a little higher expectation with our point guards when it comes to handling the basketball, especially a senior."
William played 19 more minutes without committing another turnover. She had four points and three assists.
William was one of five Bulldogs with three or more assists. It marked the fourth time this season (Maine, Mississippi Valley State, second game against Kentucky) the Bulldogs have accomplished that feat.
"I think we just understand who needs the ball and where they need the ball, and if they're not in that place on the floor we pass the ball and get another angle and get movement on the floor and make people shift on defense and then you're eventually going to get someone wide open," Blair Schaefer said. "There is no reason to force balls in certain areas when it is just not there. I feel like we have good decision-making skills, and today we just did that."
Inside the numbers
MSU forced 13 turnovers and had a 21-4 edge in points off turnovers. It marked the 21st time MSU has scored 20 or more points off turnovers. ... MSU shot 28-for-56 from the field, its 12th time this season shooting 50 percent or better from the field. The Bulldogs also were 10-for-21 from 3-point range. It was the 11th time this season they have hit 10 or more treys in a game. ... With 19 assists and only five turnovers, MSU finished with less than 10 turnovers for the 10th time. ... McCowan had 12 points and 11 rebounds for her school-record 23rd double-double.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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