STARKVILLE, Miss. – Seniors Sarah Pfeifer and Leslie Howard had two of their finest games of the year, but the University of Arkansas’ comeback fell just short at Starkville, 80-75, to Mississippi State in Southeastern Conference women’s basketball action.
Arkansas, 18-6, drops to 3-5 in league play, but stays in a three-way tie with Kentucky and South Carolina as each team dropped their respective league games. State, 14-8, moves to 5-3 in SEC games.
“We got down early, but our team and our bench were more together tonight than I’ve seen all this season,” UA head coach Susie Gardner said. “It was disappointing, but we don’t have time to hang our head. We’ll get back late tonight, but we’re right back in the gym tomorrow.”
Freshman Donica Cosby led Arkansas with 18 points. Pfeifer had the third double-double of her career with a career-high tying 12 rebounds to go with 15 points. Howard had 14 points. Lauren Ervin rounded out four in double digits with 10.
Trailing by as many as 15 in the first half, Arkansas used a 23-3 run that spanned the end of the first and start of the second to get back into the game.
“We played great during that period, but we didn’t at the start of the game and we let them make some key plays at the end,” Gardner said.
After shooting 50% in the first half, MSU went only 1-of-14 to begin the second and allow Arkansas to rally. During the second half, Arkansas shifted to zone, which worked for part of the half.
“The zone slowed them down, but at the end, they got hot,” Gardner said. “That’s the problem with zone, you’re taking a chance.”
Tanisha Smith’s running jumper with 12:32 left gave Arkansas the lead, 46-45. It extended to eight, 53-47, before State regained its shooting touch.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Alexis Rack tied the game for MSU, 53-53, with 8:47 left. The teams traded leads and momentum until Rack sank another three-pointer with 5:15 left to put MSU up five, 60-55.
Howard’s breakaway steal and three-point play tied the game for Arkansas, but MSU got a four-point response from Bethany Washington. The freshman made a pair of steals, the first leading to a layup. She was unable to get the second as an intentional foul by Pfeifer stopped her break. Washington hit both free throws. State extended to a seven-point lead on a jumper by Imela Jackson.
Arkansas got several key plays late, but came up short as MSU hit free throws to keep their distance.
The teams played even through the first two media timeouts, but back-to-back breakaway layups off steals by Jackson launched the decisive early run by MSU.
A long jumper and a three-pointer from Tysheka Grimes gave the Lady Bulldogs five more unanswered points. A Pfeifer layup interrupted the scoring, but four more points made it a 13-2 run in just over two minutes.
Ervin hit a short jumper at 4:26 left, but another 8-0 MSU run thanks to a back-to-back three-pointers gave the Lady Bulldogs’ their largest lead of the game, 42-27, with 2:15 left.
An 8-1 run to close the half pulled Arkansas back within double digits. Howard’s bucket with two seconds left made the score 43-35 at halftime, but the way Howard scored her near-buzzer beater said more about Arkansas offense.
Howard’s shot was a rebound put-back, and Arkansas got zero field goals from its guards in the last nine minutes of the half.
Meanwhile, MSU took advantage of Arkansas’ zone defense with a 6-of-10 performance behind the line, and hit 50% overall in the first half.
For the game, Arkansas shot 38.6% from the field compared to 42.2% for MSU. The Lady’Backs outrebounded MSU, 46-40, losing their first game of the year in which they controlled the glass.
State also had four players in double digits, led by Rack with 20. Marneshia Richard had 19 points followed by 11 from Jackson and 10 from Washington. Washington also had 12 rebounds for a double-double.
The Lady’Backs return home to Walton Arena to face Ole Miss on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.