Highlights | Balcomb | Batey & Dahlman
By David Dawson
NASHVILLE -- The shooting slump is over.
Vanderbilt's winless mark in the SEC is also gone.
And Mississippi State's undefeated record and longest-ever winning streak? Those are over now, too.
Delivering 40 minutes of excellent execution and energized effort, the Commodores led from start to finish while downing the No. 14/15-ranked Bulldogs, 78-62, in front of a crowd of 3,690 at Memorial Gym.
The victory was a big emotional boost for the Commodores, who came into the day having lost five of their past six games and were 0-3 against ranked opponents on the season.
"(This win was about) just getting back to the basics of what we are all good at and what we can bring to this team individually," said Vanderbilt junior Morgan Batey, who tied her career high with 18 points and also pulled down 10 rebounds for her third double-double of the season. "We haven't played together really as a team all season. So for us to do that and fight for each other was huge."
Heather Bowe and Rebekah Dahlman added 17 points each and Rachel Bell had 12 for the Commodores (9-7, 1-3) , who shot 62 percent from the field and were 33-of-42 (78 percent) from the foul line.
Vanderbilt did not attempt a three-pointer in the second half and was just 1-for-3 from 3-point range for the game. But the Commodores won the battle inside, outscoring Mississippi State 34-26 in the paint and winning the rebounding battle, 37-31.
Breanna Richardson paced Mississippi State (18-1, 3-1) with 16 points and Victoria Vivians had 12. But the Bulldogs shot just 32 percent from the field, including 3-of-13 from 3-point range.
The Commodores came into the game seeking to get back on track after opening SEC play with three straight losses for the first time in head coach's Melanie Balcomb's tenure. Vanderbilt was also looking to get back in sync offensively after shooting just 34 percent from the field in the past two games.
Mississippi State, conversely, charged into the afternoon with an 18-0 record, which included a 3-0 start in the SEC for the first time in school history. The Bulldogs carried some other impressive stats into the game, too, including being the SEC's top-scoring team (81 points per game).
But Sunday belonged to Vanderbilt, as the Commodores built a double-digit lead midway through the first half, stayed in control for much of the second half, and then fended off a Mississippi State comeback bid by closing the game on a 14-4 run over the final 4:03 after the Bulldogs had trimmed the deficit to six points.
The contest lasted roughly 2½ hours -- as the teams combined for 60 free throws -- but for the Commodores, it was well worth it.
"It feels great," said Vanderbilt redshirt freshman Rebekah Dahlman. "This whole team is back in the zone and ready to move on and get better."
Balcomb said she challenged her team to come together before the game. And she said she didn't mince words during the pregame talk.
"I'm really proud of how they responded," said Balcomb. "I told them, 'if you guys want to get mad at me, at least you'll come together.' And as a leader I need to do whatever it takes to get this team together. And we weren't together. They all like each other, but we weren't playing together as a team (until today)."
Vanderbilt set the tone for the victory early, jumping out to a 16-3 lead in the first 8½ minutes. Mississippi State opened the game 0-of-9 from the floor, and didn't make its first field goal until the 11:32 mark of the first half.
The Bulldogs trimmed Vanderbilt's lead to 21-18 with 7:01 left in the half, but the Commodores responded with a 13-6 run, capped by Bowe's buzzer-beating layup, to take a 34-24 lead into the locker room.
Vanderbilt maintained a comfortable lead for much of the second half until Mississippi State made one final push, closing the Vanderbilt lead to 64-58 with 4:03 to go. But a layup by Bowe -- set up by a terrific pass from Jasmine Jenkins -- swung the momentum back to Vanderbilt, and sparked a game-sealing 9-0 run for the Commodores.
Free throws played a large role in the win, as the Commodores went 26-of-31 (83 percent) in the second half to keep Mississippi State at bay.
Vanderbilt hosts Alabama-Huntsville on Thursday in a non-conference game, then returns to SEC play with a trip to Georgia on Sunday.