© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
The holiday season is upon us, a time for giving and forgiving. In that spirit, the Mississippi State University Bulldogs could be charitably termed to be “rebuilding”. They are a young team with 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster including 4 of the starters. If one felt more like Scrooge than a charitable soul, they could point out that MSU has been rebuilding longer than it took the Pharaohs to build the pyramids. They have been fairly mediocre for a good many years, and suffered a particularly rough 2005-2006 season ending up with a 6-22 record.
If one just looked at the records and relative strengths of the two teams, one might expect their match-up against the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday evening in Mackey to be a blow-out. The Boilers, however, had just come off finals week. Historically this has been the time they play in Indianapolis in the Boilermaker Blockbuster and, more often than not, put in one of their poorer efforts of the entire year. For that reason, it was fully possible that the match-up would be much closer than one might otherwise expect despite the change to a more friendly venue.
The teams began the game trading turnovers and missed shots. An Erin Lawless jumper “and one” with 18:46 remaining finally dented the score board. The home team led 5-0 after a Malone lay-up. Then the Bulldogs hit some shots of their own while the Old Gold and Black committed a string of 5 turnovers. At the end of that ignominious run the visitors had a 5-7 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half. Versyp had finally seen enough. She took a time out and spent most of it getting in the faces of her sluggish charges. That served to motivate the team to at least wake up, and the Boilers resumed play with a bit more intensity. They immediately tied things up with a Wisdom-Hylton field goal. The home team then ground out the points and slowly built a lead on the Bulldogs. Lawless and Wisdom-Hylton did most of the damage as the other Boilers struggled to find their range. When the first half was over the Boilers were ahead by 10, 33- 23.
The second half began much as the first had ended. The Boilers were obviously the more talented squad, but missed shots and turnovers allowed the Bulldogs to hang around. The home team’s lead bounced between 6 and 15 points for the first 10 minutes. Mississippi State had pulled to within 6 points by the 11:25 media time out. It was then the Boilers caught fire. It started with Jodi Howell, who hit back to back 3 point baskets. Jodi’s accuracy seemed to rub off on Katie Gearlds, as she connected on her next attempts as well. The Boilers ran off 11 straight makes from either the floor or the free throw line. Danielle Campbell had the dubious honor of missing a free throw at the 4:06 mark to break the streak, but by that time the Old Gold and Black had run off 19 unanswered points and the lead had ballooned to 29. The final margin was 26 points, 75-49.
Comments on specific aspects of the game
The Boilers first half shooting percentage was none to shabby at 48%, but that paled next to the second half’s scorching 59% from the field. The Old Gold and Black found their touch from downtown as they connected on 50% of their attempts for the game. The team recorded 19 assists for their 29 made field goals. These gaudy numbers speak to the team’s offensive precision and unselfish play.
The Bulldogs were held to 27% shooting for the game. Bulldog leading scorer Imesha Jackson struggled with fouls all night and failed to reach double digits. The Old Gold and Black did a good job mixing things up, and spent a fair amount of time in man to man. In addition, the home team was credited with 13 steals and 6 blocked shots.
The Boilers dominance extended to the boards, as they pulled down 43 rebounds to 36 for the visitors. Much of this success resulted from paying attention to boxing out the weak side when shots went up. Katie Gearlds led all players with a career-high 12 caroms.
Free Throw Shooting:
The free throw numbers weren’t quite as eye-popping as some of the other statistics, but at 72% it was more than adequate. FahKara Malone and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton were both perfect from the stripe.
The lone black spot in an otherwise wonderful game was the 25 turnovers committed by the Boilers. Many occurred when perimeter players attempted absolutely ridiculous passes into the post. The overall game plan and offensive execution was otherwise fine.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton had another productive game, and she seems to improve every time she takes the court. She was one of the few bright lights at the beginning of the contest, and continues to wreak havoc with opposing players on the defensive end. Particularly noteworthy was an open-court steal off a MSU guard. Lindsay finished with 14 points (6-9, 2-2 FT), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks and 4 steals to 3 turnovers.
Jodi Howell finally put together they type of game the Mackey hopeful had been hoping to see since her arrival in West Lafayette. For the first time in recent memory she actively demanded the ball when she was alone behind the arc. When her teammates delivered she did not let them down as she nailed most of her treys. Jodi demonstrated that she’s much more than a hired gun as she was able to contribute defensively and maintain ball movement within the flow of the offense. Jodi credited her excellent outing to the fact that she felt healthy and that her knees weren’t bothering her. Here’s hoping she’s over all the effects of mononucleosis and that she feels comfortable for the remainder of the year. Jodi recorded a career-high 17 points (6-10, 5-8 3 pt.er), 4 rebounds, and assist, a steal, and a turnover.
Katie Gearld’s most impressive plays of the game involved having the patience and court vision to look off the defense and then find Lindsay WH alone under the basket. Three of her 4 assists were recorded in this fashion. Initially Katie struggled with her shot (she recorded only 3 points in the first half), but she made her presence felt in other ways. Katie was able to nab rebounds, play tough defense, and help keep the team on the same page. When her shot started falling she quickly jumped out to double figures. In all Katie had 16 points (4-13. 4-9 3 pt.er, 4-6 FT), 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal to 5 turnovers.
FahKara Malone no longer looks like a freshman. She is the unquestioned floor general who can run the team on offense and provide extremely disruptive ball pressure on defense. FahKara already has that sense of when to set up her team mates vs. when she should score on her own. That is a quality that many players never quite master, and it’s what sets true point guards apart from other players. Malone ended the night with 7 points (2-3, 0-1 3 pt.er, 3-3 FT), a rebound, 5 assists and 3 steals to 3 turnovers.
Lost in the excitement over Jodi’s breakout was the fact that Erin Lawless had a stellar game. “E-Law” did not miss from the field, recording 100% efficiency as she recorded 17 points (6-6, 1-1 3 pt.er, 4-6 FT), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal to 3 turnovers. Not recorded in the box score was her ability to play extremely physical defense without fouling and to aggressively attack the basket on offense.
Recording 6 turnovers in 21 minutes is never a good thing, but for Lauren Mioton it was indicative of some encouraging signs. First and foremost, is the fact that she played 21 minutes – which means she can now be trusted to run the floor when Malone gets into foul trouble. It also means that Lauren is taking chances and attempting to be more active during her time on the court. Finally, it means she’s getting scouted as the opposing team was waiting and ready for her when she entered the game. Lauren had perhaps the most impressive play of her career as a Boiler when she stole an inbounds pass from an unsuspecting Bulldog player, took it strong to the hoop, and recorded a quick bucket. Lauren’s other made basket occurred when the shot clock was in the final seconds of a sub-par Boiler possession. She got herself to a spot on the court to receive a kick-out pass and then nailed the attempt. In all, the Louisiana native had 4 points (2-3, 0-1 3 pt.er), 2 assists and 2 steals.
KiKi Freeman played a very solid game. She took shots within the flow of the offense, but failed to connect on any of her 6 attempts. Kiki is one of the better players on the team when it comes to not letting poor offensive production alter her effort, and she was able to pull down 6 rebounds and record 2 assists and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Like Freeman, Danielle Campbell did everything but score. She played excellent post defense. She did not post up with the authority she has demonstrated in previous games, however. No doubt that will improve as the season progresses. Freeman was able to pull down 3 boards, and record an assist, 2 blocked shots and 2 turnovers on the night.
Laura Garriga played the final 4 minutes. She failed to connect on her lone shot attempt.
The Boilermaker’s newest addition, volleyball player Brittany Dildine, did not see the court. Chances are she will be more than a practice player before the year is up, but expecting her to play less than a week after joining the team is more than one can expect.
The game after finals is always a challenge for the team, and the coaching staff did a very good job in making it clear that nothing less than the customary effort was acceptable.
Jodi Howell’s spirit is no doubt willing, but her body is sending a very clear message about what it can and can not do. That appears to be somewhat less training and playing than the team does typically. It will be a test of Versyp’s flexibility to see if she can manage Jodi in a way that brings out her best on the court.
The officials; Lisa Mattingly, June Corteau, and Tina Napier, represent some of the better zebras the NCAA has to offer. Which is not to say that they were at all popular with the Mackey faithful. The audience found plenty to disagree with over the course of the game.
The game was extremely well attended for a contest held between semesters. The announced crowd was 7798, and the lower bowl was mostly full.
For just one game, I would like to see the tuba players who come down to center court to do their “thang” before the game starts be replaced by the best thespians in America today. Perhaps Robert DiNiro, Meryl Streep, Russell Crowe, and Kevin Spacey can march in a circle as they play the first phrase of the Purdue fight song. When the band responds with the second phrase and the tuba players act puzzled - apparently looking around to see where in the heck this other the music is coming from – perhaps these great actors can really sell that response. Maybe then the people in the stands will understand the tuba players’ honest confusion and amazement. Or perhaps, like the actual Purdue band members, the Academy Award winners will merely look like stupid goofs.
The first game after finals week has always been a struggle no matter how weak or strong the opponent. It bodes well for the team that this year the funk only lasted 29 minutes. The team next travels to Las Vegas for a two game tournament before breaking for the holiday. If they hold true to form, the Boilers should begin Big 10 play with an 11-2 record and an excellent chance to win the conference.