(FILE) â€“ Kendra Grant scored 11 points for Mississippi State on Sunday. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer was in a mood to celebrate Sunday afternoon.
Following a 47-44 victory for the Bulldogs over the Arkansas Razorbacks, Schaefer gathered his team around in front of the bench and shared a joyful moment.
There haven't been too many of those this season, but Schaefer wanted to make sure the players knew how he felt of their effort.
"I'm so proud of my kids for how hard they competed," Schaefer said. "It wasn't perfect, but you have to be impressed with our competitive nature (Sunday) and our toughness."
From the very start of the game, Mississippi State established the defensive intensity that Schaefer likes.
The Bulldogs forced 12 turnovers in the first half and held the Razorbacks to 21 percent shooting (5-of-24) from the field in the 20-minute span.
"I feel like we all pulled it together," MSU sophomore guard Kendra Grant said. "He was telling me and the rest of the team that he was proud of us. This is the type of defensive team that he wants. This was a perfect example of what he wants."
MSU held its biggest lead of the first half at 22-9 with 6 minutes remaining on a 3-point field goal by Darriel Gaynor.
After the Razorbacks had cut the margin to 22-14, Kendra Grant hit the final basket of the first half as the Bulldogs took a 24-14 advantage into the halftime intermission.
Schaefer said holding Arkansas to 14 points in the first half had to be considered impressive.
"Arkansas has two future WNBA players on that team," Schaefer said. "Watkins is a player. Arkansas made zero 3's (for the game) and that has to do with our pressure. We were going to let them have a clear view of anything."
The Razorbacks did manage to make a run at the Bulldogs and took their first lead of the game at 37-35 with 8:39 left.
A basket by Martha Alwal put MSU back on top 39-38 at the 6:30 mark.
The game went back and forth the rest of the way, then a pair of free throws by Katia May gave the Bulldogs the advantage for good at 44-42 with 3:20 left to play. Another basket by Alwal and a free throw by Grant helped secure the victory.
"We lost the lead, then got three stops in a row and three scores in a row," Schaefer said. "That put us back up by four (46-42). I'm impressed with our toughness and this is what I'm talking about. When you hold an SEC team to 44 points, 14 points in a half, that's so hard to do in this league."
MSU bounced back from an 88-45 loss at Tennessee on Thursday to pick up its second Southeastern Conference win in three games. The Bulldogs improved to 10-12 overall and 2-7 in the league.
"It says something about an individual," Schaefer said about the way his team responded after the loss to the Lady Volunteers.
Alwal led MSU with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Grant also scored in double digits with 11 points.
Sarah Watkins, who scored 13 of her 15 points for the Razorbacks in the second half, was impressed with Alwal's game in the post.
"She's a great player," Watkins said. "She's not always going to block shots, but she is going to change shots. Her presence under the goal does a lot for their team, and she is a great scorer too. She has a soft touch from 15 feet."
Quistelle Williams had 16 points to lead Arkansas, which fell to 15-7 overall and 3-6 in the SEC.
The Bulldogs won't play again until facing Missouri at Arkansas on Feb. 10.
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