Alabama’s Cierra Johnson moves past Mississippi State’s Myah Taylor in their game Sunday at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Photo by: Alabama Athletic Media Relations
February 4, 2019 10:38:34 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Turn the page.
Forgetting one game and moving on to the next one seems like a simple proposition. But when you're energized for excellence like graduate student Anriel Howard, sometimes you can get ahead of yourself and go too quickly or try to do too much.
Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer alluded to that fact Sunday after No. 6 MSU's 65-49 victory against Alabama in a Southeastern Conference game before a crowd of 3,769 at Coleman Coliseum. Schaefer scanned the box score and saw Howard had a game-high 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting from the field and grabbed seven rebounds in 32 minutes. When you have a coach who is striving for the "perfect game," it's easy to find areas to address for the next practice or the next game.
"She is 9 out of 12 and probably the three shots she missed probably didn't need to take them, but that is her trying to make something happen, and there is nothing wrong with that," Schaefer said. "It's a learning process -- a new offense -- that kind of thing, but again, I was pleased with her, especially early."
Schaefer felt the Bulldogs could attack the Crimson Tide with Howard and said she did a good job getting to the rim. As a result, she was 6-for-9 from the free-throw line.
Howard recorded her sixth 20-plus point game of the season thanks to an aggressive attitude that helped her attack the basket, especially when guarded by smaller players.
Early in the game, Alabama attempted to use a bigger player -- 6-foot-3 Jasmine Walker -- on the perimeter to slow down the 5-11 Howard. Walker blocked a drive by Howard when she didn't switch off to guard another Bulldog. Following a 3-pointer by Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Howard scored off a pass out top on a play in which she attacked a smaller defender. She added a short jump shot, two free throws, and a pull-up jumper in the spurt to help MSU build a 21-13 lead after one quarter.
The effort marked the fourth time this season Howard has followed a single-digit scoring game with a 20-plus point performance. She was coming off a 3-for-10 shooting effort (six points) Thursday in a 68-35 victory against LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
"If I know I didn't have a good game, I will just work on the things I didn't do well in the last game, like shooting," Howard said. "Getting in the gym, that helps a lot. I just try to turn the page and move forward."
Turnovers irritate Schaefer more than anything.
After a 17-turnover performance that featured three Bulldogs with four, Schaefer wasn't happy with how his team cared for the basketball.
"We've got to be better than that," Schaefer said. "I am fit to be tied. In a lot of our turnovers, I am trying to run something and they're just stubborn. We are stubborn sometimes, and trying to do something else."
The game marked the sixth time MSU had 15 or more turnovers. MSU entered the game first in the SEC and 11th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.37) The Bulldogs' five assists were a season low. It was the seventh time in the last two seasons MSU has had less than 10 assists in a game.
The five assists matched MSU's output in a 57-53 victory against Missouri on Feb. 1, 2018, in Columbia, Missouri.
The minus-12 difference between assists and turnovers was MSU's biggest deficit of the season.
After targeting his team's performance on defense, Schaefer was pleased to see the Bulldogs hold their fourth-straight opponent to less than 40 percent shooting from the field. MSU has reached that mark in five of its last six games.
"I thought we were really special defensively," Schaefer said. "I thought we played really hard. We forced 18 turnovers, 12 in the second half, which is always a good thing to see."
Alabama was 18-for-60 (30 percent) from the field, including 3-for-17 in the third quarter. The Crimson Tide missed six makable shots in the first five-plus minutes of the second half. The missed opportunities came back to haunt them because the Bulldogs committed three turnovers and had a missed shot coming out of intermission with a 39-27 lead. MSU regrouped to outscore Alabama 15-7
"I thought the layup to start the game and the four missed lay ups to start the second half really put us at a disadvantage," Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. "When you're playing a team of this caliber you just have a very small margin for error. I think we just have to be tough enough to finish those and to rebound the ball the way we did today. You just have to make those easy baskets to start halves."
Injuries piling up
MSU was without sophomore Bre'Amber Scott (concussion symptoms) and sophomore Nyah Tate (foot), who didn't travel with the team.
In the second quarter, senior Jordan Danberry twisted her ankle as she slid on the court into a near-split. She tried to walk it off, but she was bothered by it when she returned from halftime. Danberry was the final player out of the Bulldogs' locker room at halftime. She played only two minutes in the third quarter before she went to the bench for good.
Schaefer said he had seen enough from Danberry to believe she couldn't go in the second half, so he opted not to use her the rest of the game.
"I just felt like we have to get kids in there who can play a little harder," Schaefer said. "Once we went to the bench, Xaria was really good. She rebounded well. She didn't hurt us on offense."
Strong showings by Wiggins, Campbell
Xaria Wiggins was another of the Bulldogs' walking wounded.
In fact, Schaefer wasn't sure if the freshman guard was going to play after she tweaked her shoulder in practice Saturday. Despite a sore shoulder, Wiggins played her second-most minutes in a game and had two points and four rebounds.
"I am so proud of her and her toughness," Schaefer said. "That kid showed some toughness today. Most people would not have come back today. I think that gave our team an added boost."
Redshirt junior center Zion Campbell also provided a lift, playing a season-high 12 minutes. Even though Campbell didn't score, she had two rebounds and a blocked shot and moved ahead of freshman Jessika Carter in the rotation. Carter played only one minute in the second half and didn't score and had one rebound.
"Zion was really good today and was really engaged," Schaefer said.
Schaefer his team likely would take a couple of days off because it "needs the rest." MSU doesn't play Thursday. It will play host to Tennessee at 1 p.m. Sunday at Humphrey Coliseum. That game is sold out.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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