After a hiatus from the hardwood of over 10 days, the Mississippi State University women's basketball team was back in action against the fourth-ranked University of South Carolina Gamecocks this past Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum. It was the first matchup between first-year Bulldog Head Coach and former South Carolina Assistant Coach Nikki McCray-Penson and Gamecocks Head Coach Dawn Staley.
South Carolina won the tip and immediately ramped up the pressure, running the tuned-up, half-court man-to-man defense fans are used to seeing. The Bulldogs, however, did not shy away from the challenge in the first quarter. After getting premier Gamecock player Aliyah Boston in foul trouble early, the guard rotation was in the passing lanes all quarter, creating some fast-paced action on both ends of the floor that did not lead to any sort of high-scoring affair early on.
The teams ended the first quarter on a combined 9/34 shooting, with Jessika Carter leading the Bulldogs in rebounds in the first with a very impressive total of six. At the end of the quarter, the score sat at 11-10,with MSU leading
Whatever Dawn Staley said to her team after the quarter break took hold, however, as South Carolina went on an 8-0 run in the first two minutes of the second quarter. Some lack-luster ball movement from the Bulldogs culminated in a multitude of misses, and South Carolina was sure to capitalize with the help of some great fast break passing. The Bulldogs simply could not buy a bucket, and with Aliyah Boston finally getting to see more of the floor, points sure were not getting any easier to come by. This showed in the first half shooting percentage, as the Bulldogs sat at 28.6% for the half and were outscored in the quarter 26-12. Going into the break, South Carolina lead via a score of 36-23.
In the third quarter, the Bulldogs valiantly showed some signs of life. Sadly, those signs did not translate into points. Defensively, the Bulldogs held South Carolina to roughly the same pace and percentage as the previous quarters, but as for the offensive end of the floor, the Clarion Ledger's Tyler Horka summed it up best in his tweet.
"Mississippi State looks completely lost offensively," Horka shared via Twitter.
This was due in part to the dynamic duo that South Carolina brought to Starkville of guard Zia Cooke and, of course, Aliyah Boston. The two Gamecock players led the charge on the defensive end in the quarter, and both teams knot up the scoring at 18 each in the period. The score sat at 54-41, Gamecocks' lead.
The fourth quarter turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back, with South Carolina busting through the dam offensively by pouring in fast break and paint points. The Gamecocks kept the pressure up and really stretched out their lead later into the period. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' offense continued to stagnate, without being able to buy a bucket even from the foul line.
The final shooting percentages for MSU were suboptimal to say the least, as ESPN team stats put the Bulldogs at a 33.8% shooting percentage from the floor and 33.3% from the foul line, shooting 5-15 for the whole game. The final score read 75-52, with South Carolina taking the win.
After the game, when asked about what the next step is after this tough loss, Bulldog guard Myah Taylor had some stoic words for the media.
"Move on from it," said the Bulldog guard. "Grow from it. Just try to move on."
Head Coach McCray-Penson also said after the action she does still believe this team is headed in the right direction.
The next contest for the MSU women's basketball team will be against another nationally ranked team, the University of Tennessee. That game will tip off at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday as Coach McCray-Penson and the Bulldogs look to right the ship and get back to their winning ways.