By MATTHEW STEVENS
That’s all it took for Vanderbilt to leave Humphrey Coliseum with its first win in Starkville since 2007.
With 16 minutes left in the contest, Mississippi State was six points ahead of a team that’s considered a lock for the 2011 NCAA Tournament but a 17-2 run over the next seven minutes by the Commodores not only put them up 53-44 but ended all hope of a home upset.
“They answered the bell at that time and teams get tougher in February – they have more energy,” Mississippi State head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “If you don’t step up, people will just come at you.”
Vanderbilt was led by the third double-double of the season for sophomore forward Tiffany Clarke as the forward had 22 points and 14 rebounds in a career-high 33 minutes.
“I just couldn’t take her off the floor, not even for a little breather,” Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb said. “She was being so aggressive and playing with so much energy, I simply didn’t want to.”
The sophomore from Duluth, Geo., was nearly unstoppable in the first half with six of Vanderbilt’s nine baskets in the first 20 minutes of play.
On defense, Clarke was a factor in MSU junior post player Catina Bett going just 3-for-14 from the floor and was even forced to guard Lady Bulldogs senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero from the perimeter.
“We did a lot of switching as we focused on Mary Kathryn and I thought even with their four-guard lineup, Tiffany did a great job of getting out there contesting shots but still pulling down key rebounds to secure stops,” Balcomb said.
Vanderbilt (18-8, 9-4 in SEC) earned only its third-ever victory on the road in this series and first come-from-behind victory away from Memorial Coliseum in Nashville with a seven-player core that consists of four underclassmen.
“What I like is we’re such a young team that’s now found another way to win on the road,” Balcomb said. “Winning this game when we’re down has allowed us to finally say ‘we’ve done that and it can be done’.”
During that seven-minute stretch that cost the Lady Bulldogs the game, Fanning-Otis burned two timeouts trying to squelch the Commodores momentum but her team’s lack of experience was a critical factor in another Southeastern Conference loss.
“It wasn’t a senior moment because we only have one,” Fanning-Otis said. “Bottom line, we just have to toughen up.”
MSU’s non-returners from last year’s Sweet 16 appearance combined for 23 points and were a combined 9-for-34 shooting against a team that ranks second in the SEC in scoring defense.
Govero led MSU with 17 points in 37 minutes but the second after Vanderbilt took the lead, the senior had just two baskets the rest of the evening.
“We definitely knew they were a team that makes runs and just didn’t handle that well at all tonight,” Govero said. “We once again didn’t execute down the stretch and take advantage of another opportunity to win.”
Mississippi State (10-15, 2-11) was out-rebounded 52-36 despite allowing the Commodores to shoot 50 percent from the field in the second half.
In order to avoid its first losing season since 2005-06, the Lady Bulldogs must now win its final three regular season games and reach the SEC Tournament final in two weeks.