By BEN WAIT
The Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs finished a game like coach Sharon Fanning-Otis wants Friday night.
Mississippi State used a strong second half to down in-state foe Southern Mississippi 71-57 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Leading 36-30 at halftime, the Lady Bulldogs came out on fire and opened the second half on a 16-6 run. They out-scored the Lady Eagles 35-27 in the second half and held them under 31 percent shooting for the half.
Fanning-Otis was glad to see her team come alive in the second half.
“We reminded them that we had been through one situation,” Fanning-Otis said of the halftime lead. “We did a good job pressuring them defensively. Porsha Porter forced a lot of turnovers for us, although it was a team effort she had a lot to do with it. As a team, finding a way to have good defense is the key. It was great team win, and a great way to head into the Christmas break.”
Porter led the way for MSU with a season-high 25 points. She has averaged 20.7 points in here last three games and it showed last night. She made three of four 3-pointers and eight of 10 two-pointers. She also went 6-for-8 at the free-throw line and pulled down nine rebounds.
“I was just bringing energy to the team,” Porter said. “Diamber (Johnson) had an off night so I had to step up. I shot poorly last game so I got in the gym and worked on free throws. It paid off in tonight’s game.
Fanning-Otis was glad to see Porter step up and lead the team, but she wants to get her entire team involved and contributing.
“I am emphasizing five players in double figures because you’re hard to guard,” Fanning-Otis said. “If you have two people scoring 15 or 20. it's easy for other teams to stop.”
Johnson has been the go-to player all year for the Lady Bulldogs, but it was her teammates who stepped up to lead the way. She knows her teammates are capable of doing this night-in and night-out.
“Even if it’s not my night, what Porsha did tonight is what she is capable of doing every night,” Johnson said. “What Kendra (Grant) did is what Kendra can do every night. Seeing this tonight is going to help us.”
The Lady Bulldogs opened the game on a 15-1 run behind Grant’s quick eight points. She ended the night with a season-high 13 points.
“It felt right those first 8 minutes,” Grant said. “I was in the right spot at the right time. I needed to make sure I am in those same spots the entire game.”
Lady Eagle head coach Joye Lee-McNelis’ team was not ready and she saw that in the early going.
“Fifteen to one to start the game,” said Lee-McNelis, who saw her team fall to 3-6. “We were not ready to start. We had six turnovers in the first few minutes of the game. We were all out of wack and could not make a change. We needed mental preparation.”
The Lady Eagles went to a full-court press early in the first half to offset the Lady Bulldog’s run.
Johnson was proud of the way her team handled it but felt they put themselves in bad situations.
“We handled it OK,” Johnson said. “The turnovers we caused ourselves when we rushed. They weren’t forced turnovers. We have to be patient and not freak out and take our time and break the press.”
The Lady Bulldogs never trailed and stretched their biggest lead to 26 points late in the second half.
Building on this run is something Fanning-Otis hopes happens with her team down the stretch.
“I want to build on 26 and I want to put that away,” Fanning-Otis said. “However if I look down the stretch, there were four freshmen on the floor at that particular point.”
MSU, who improved to 8-2, will be back in action Monday night when they host Louisiana Lafayette at 7 p.m. They are coached by former Lady Bulldog assistant Errol Rogers.