Vanderbilt women get close, still can’t catch Mississippi State

Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 7:31pm
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Merideth Marsh missed her first nine shots but finished with 11 points.

Close. Closer.

Vanderbilt staged a series of rallies throughout the second half Sunday but the closest it got over the final 13:55 was two points. Ultimately, the 21st-ranked Commodores lost 65-56 to Mississippi State before 5,809 at Memorial Coliseum.

It was their second loss in fewer than three weeks and third straight overall to the Lady Bulldogs. Their last victory in the series was 2007-08, and the current three-game losing streak to Mississippi State is their longest against any conference opponent, including the University of Tennessee.

The last time MSU won in Nashville was back in 1980-81.

VU coach Melanie Balcomb and her players were not available during the standard postgame media time, and an estimated 200-300 young fans waited close to an hour for a players’ autograph session to commence while the Commodores sorted out what happened.

“Part of winning is effort, and consistent effort,” Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning said. “When the game goes back and forth and there’s runs or it’s tie game or somebody gets ahead, (it’s important) that you have the composure to make the next play.”

Vanderbilt (14-6, 3-4 in the SEC) trailed by as many as seven in the first half, cut the deficit to three at intermission and pulled even at 36-36 on Merideth Marsh’s 3-pointer with 13:55 remaining.

MSU (13-7, 4-3) responded with an 11-2 run and never trailed again. Twice the Commodores closed to within two, the second time on Jessica Mooney’s steal and layup with 2:37 to play, but never got even or went in front.

“I think it was pretty important (to keep the lead),” MSU guard Alexis Rack, who had 17 points and a game-high five assists said. “The crowd was pretty excited and the momentum would have switched.”

The Lady Bulldogs’ defense, largely man-to-man, held Vanderbilt to 39.3 percent shooting from the field, well below its average of 46.7, which was the SEC’s best, prior to the contest. The Commodores’ point total was more than 18 points below its season average.

Marsh, VU’s leading scorer, missed her first nine shots (five of them 3-pointers) but eventually finished with 11. Post players Hannah Tuomi and Tiffany Clarke were held to a combined five points.

Jence Rhoads scored a game-high 20, including 16 of her team’s first 30 through the first 35-plus minutes of play.

“I was pleased with the pressure we had on the ball and I was pleased with our effort,” Fanning said. “… I felt like this was a huge team win for us.”