Although Sunday night's game against Alcorn State didn't start off too hot for the Mississippi State University women's basketball team, a huge turnaround after halftime led to a dominant 86-63 victory in Starkville.
The Bulldogs (3-0) outscored the Braves (0-2) 35-7 in the third quarter after leaving the court with a 31-30 lead at the half. Sophomore guard JerKaila Jordan finished with a team-high 26 points — including six three-pointers — while pulling down eight rebounds. Anastasia Hayes, Myah Taylor and Raven Farley each scored in double-figures for the Dawgs, with the three scoring 20, 15 and 12 points, respectively. Caterrion Thompson had 12 rebounds for MSU.
MSU was favored over ASU but was missing many players, including Rickea Jackson. The Braves seemed to know this and put up a strong fight early. Despite the fact the visiting team had nine total turnovers in the first quarter alone, they were able to stay in the game thanks to their 75% field goal percentage. MSU added nine of their first quarter points off of these turnovers, but like Alcorn State, could not consistently make shots.
The second quarter was not much better for the Bulldogs. They made none of their eight three-point attempts and forced only four turnovers. Jordan, who led the team with five points in the first quarter, was benched for the entirety of the quarter after finding herself in early foul trouble. MSU's 39% shooting percentage was not great, but Hayes kept the Dawgs in the game with her eight points. Still, the team still only held a 31-30 lead heading into the locker room. That score was much too close for comfort to fans in the Coliseum.
Coach Novak was understandably not happy with his team's performance heading into the break, but he was not worried about how the team had been shooting. In the postgame press conference, he explained that he was more worried about the team's attitude on the court.
"Eventually, if you keep on taking the right shots, it's going to be okay," Novak said. "I wasn't worried about that, but I was worried in just how we looked at each other and how we were talking to each other. And there wasn't — and I know this is the third game and whatever — but there just wasn't a good energy that I felt in that first half on that court."
Whatever head coach Doug Novak said during the halftime break must have lit a fire under his young team. MSU stormed out of the locker room ready to prove just how dominant they could be, and they did just that. The defense held Alcorn to just seven points on 3-of-15 shooting and dominated in just about every other area. The team crashed the boards for 18 rebounds and forced the Braves to turn the ball over nine times. A 7-0 run to start the frame helped the team to settle in and play confidently. After a made jump shot by the visitors stopped MSU's early run and cut the lead to six, the Bulldogs went on yet another run. This time, they scored 15 unanswered points thanks to the efforts of Jordan and Taylor to take a 21-point lead. ASU knocked down its second shot with 4:02 left in the quarter, so once again, the Bulldogs went all out in response. This time, five different players scored on an 11-0 run that lasted until there were only 33 seconds left in the quarter. MSU headed into the final frame of action with a comfortable 66-37 advantage, with Jordan accounting for 12 points and Taylor adding seven points of her own.
The Bulldogs were outscored 26-20 by the Braves in the fourth quarter, but it did not make a difference in the outcome. The team showed off their improvements, and certain players continued to shine. Jordan added another nine points on a few made three-pointers, while Hayes had five points of her own. When the final buzzer sounded, the team was proud of themselves for their second half performance and showed they could make their university proud.
After the game, as players left the locker room tired but satisfied, Anastasia Hayes took a few minutes to meet with the media. She explained her team's mentality heading into the second half after struggling to shoot well initially.
"We didn't give up on ourselves," Hayes said. "We kept shooting, even though we were off the first half. Second half is a new game."
The team will be back in action on Nov. 22 against Bethune Cookman at 6:00 p.m.