Mississippi State's Diamber Johnson (3) goes for a layup against Auburn's Camille Glymph on Sunday at Humphrey Coliseum. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs refused to drop another home Southeastern Conference game in Starkville.
Even after falling behind the Auburn Lady Tigers 28-13 with 2:16 remaining in the first half, MSU found a way to pull out a 62-57 decision Sunday afternoon.
The Lady Bulldogs ended a four-game losing streak to the Lady Tigers in Starkville and improved their records to 13-6 overall and 3-3 in the SEC. They were able to stay ahead of the Lady Tigers in the conference standings, who fell to 10-10 overall and 2-5 in the league.
MSU senior point guard Diamber Johnson, who scored a game-high 27 points, understood the importance of pulling out a victory.
"We know where we're at from a record standpoint and we know we can't afford to lose any games right now," Johnson said. "We just kept our heads in it and it got us through."
The Lady Bulldogs suffered through a stretch where they hit only 1-of-14 shots from the field that led to the large first-half deficit.
A successful 3-point field goal by Johnson got MSU within 28-20 at halftime.
In the second half, Johnson hit a pair of shots to give the Lady Bulldogs a 57-55 advantage with 2:40 left in the game.
Johnson knew there came a point and time when she had to take shots even though she wanted to keep a point-guard mentality and keep her teammates involved as well.
"You can still keep them involved, but it's going to come off of what you initiate," Johnson said.
After Auburn tied the game at 57, Porsha Porter had a free throw and Johnson hit two more from the line to put MSU up 60-57 at the 1:44 mark.
The Lady Bulldogs came up with the key defensive series of the game when the Lady Tigers didn't seem to get what they wanted offensively.
Auburn's Blanche Alverson threw up a 3-pointer that fell off the mark, then the Lady Tigers claimed the rebound, reset and Hasina Muhammad had a short jumper bounce off the front of the rim.
"We were focused on trying to get the defensive stop and we played tenacious defense for their last couple of shots out there," Johnson said.
Mississippi State scored the last points of the game when freshman Martha Alwal scored on a layup in the paint with 37.5 seconds left.
It wasn't the first time the Lady Bulldogs have rallied from a large deficit to get a win. They were down by 16 points to Nevada before coming back to take a 67-63 victory.
MSU women's coach Sharon Fanning-Otis was happy to see that her team did not lose focus when it got down by such a sizable margin.
"They are seeing that the teamwork and energy in their level of play makes a difference in the result," Fanning-Otis said. "That's what you want to grow."
Fanning-Otis said it's good to see Johnson put up back-to-back games of 20-plus points for MSU.
Johnson scored 21 points in Thursday's 51-46 road triumph over Ole Miss and her 48 combined point total for the last two games makes her a candidate for SEC Player of the Week honors.
"Diamber did a good job of leading the team," Fanning-Otis said. "Diamber definitely had a look down the stretch. She's communicating better and being a better teacher relative to where people should be. They are learning to talk to each other better.
"Diamber is a big part and we said that from the beginning. It was a very important team win and I was proud of everyone."
One player who benefited from Johnson's leadership was Kendra Grant, who had a career-high 15 points.
"We're proud of Kendra and the way she's growing," Fanning-Otis said.
MSU remains home in the SEC on Thursday when Arkansas comes to town for a 7 p.m. tip.
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