In a season of unknowns, the Mississippi State women’s basketball team has started the season 3-0 in nonconference play at Humphrey Coliseum. Interim head coach Doug Novak has successfully guided this transfer-heavy team through some fits and starts, but the Bulldogs are learning how to make adjustments down the stretch in games.
Stinging the Hornets
Last Tuesday, MSU defeated the Alabama State Hornets at The Hump by a score of 91-62. This was the season opener for both teams. Alabama State is a program on the rise in the Southwest Athletic Conference, notching a 16-4 record for the 2020-21 season.
Both teams scored early with lightning speed, and the Bulldogs led the Hornets 30-23 after the first quarter. MSU’s defense clamped down in the second quarter, outscoring the Hornets 23-8 during the period to build a comfortable halftime lead of 53-31.
MSU’s defense stung the Hornets most of the night, claiming a 9-1 advantage in steals, a 19-6 turnover advantage, and nine blocks. The Bulldogs made numerous hustle plays on both ends of the court. The Hornets managed to outrebound the Bulldogs 50-48, but the Bulldogs still managed to outscored the Hornets 48 to 26 in the paint.
The dynamic impact of Rickea Jackson’s game-high 26 points and defensive pressure from the entire team spirited MSU to the win. Impact transfers Anastasia Hayes and JerKaila Jordan contributed a solid 17 and 15 points, respectively, and Denae Carter added a game-high 11 rebounds and three blocks in just 20 minutes of action. The Bulldogs made their way to the charity stripe 31 times, but only made 19 free throws. MSU also launched 29 3-point attempts for the game, but only made eight.
MSU moved to 1-0 to start the season and Alabama State fell to 0-1.
A hare-y situation vs. the Jackrabbits
On Friday, MSU played host to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits of the Summit League. South Dakota State is no stranger to high-caliber competition. The Jackrabbits have made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2009, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2019. The Jackrabbits managed to put the Bulldogs in a tough situation by taking a halftime lead, but MSU ultimately prevailed 76-71.
The Bulldogs and Jackrabbits played evenly for the first quarter, and South Dakota State led 16-15 to end the period. Both teams shot below 40% for the first quarter. The Jackrabbits warmed up their long-range shooting in the second quarter, hitting 4 of 8 attempts and hopping out to a 39-31 halftime lead over the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs managed to put together a 16-6 run in the third quarter and led by one point heading to the final period. The Bulldogs managed to turn up the defensive intensity, forcing South Dakota State into eight turnovers while recording five blocked shots and four steals during the second half. MSU built a nine-point lead late in the contest but struggled at the free-throw line when the team had several opportunities to cement the victory.
Jackson had a team-high 23 points and, once again, defensive pressure from the entire team played a critical role in MSU’s 76-71 win. The Bulldogs won the turnover margin 14-7 and grabbed eight steals to the Jackrabbits’ two. MSU outblocked South Dakota State 9-4 despite having far fewer rebounds than the Jackrabbits. Jordan and Anastasia Hayes contributed 17 and 14 points, respectively, and Jordan added 11 rebounds for a double-double. The Bulldogs made 13 of 20 free throws and 7 of 15 3-point attempts.
MSU moved to 2-0 on the young season and South Dakota State fell to 1-1.
Besting the Braves
On Sunday, MSU hosted the Alcorn State Braves of the SWAC. The Braves played a competitive first half, but MSU dominated the third quarter to win 86-63.
The Braves came out shooting hot in the first quarter, hitting six of their eight shots and 3-for-3 on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs shooting was cold, with the team netting just 6 of 20 shots and just 1-for-6 on 3-pointers. At the end of the first period, the teams were tied at 16-16. The Bulldogs shot better in period two, hitting 7 of their 18 attempts but missed all eight 3-point attempts. The Braves cooled off a bit, hitting 5 of 8 buckets in the second quarter. The halftime score showed a 31-30 advantage for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs came out barking in the third quarter, putting up a season-high 35 points in the period and holding the Braves to just seven points. The Bulldogs shot over 60% for the third quarter and the Braves were held to just 20%. This effort on both sides of the ball gave the Bulldogs a 66-37 lead heading into the fourth quarter, and MSU coasted to the 86-63 final tally.
Defensive pressure was once again a factor, with MSU leading Alcorn State in steals with a 17-4 advantage and in blocks with a 5-1 advantage. The Bulldogs’ ability to pressure also helped create 28 Braves turnovers.
Jordan had a team-high 26 points, Anastasia Hayes added 20 and Myah Taylor notched 15. Raven Farley added 12 points, as both she and Denae Carter both received substantive playing time in place of Rickea Jackson, who had the night off. The Bulldogs made 13 of 27 free throws and 7 of 29 3-point attempts.
MSU now sits at 3-0, while Alcorn State fell to 0-2. Next up, the Bulldogs host the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. CT at Humphrey Coliseum.