(Photo by Bruce Newman, Oxford Eagle, AP)
OXFORD â€“ The Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs were able to survive on the road again Thursday night in an Southeastern Conference rivalry game.
The Lady Bulldogs beat Alabama last time they were on the road.
This time they beat in-state rival Ole Miss 51-46 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"You should always take this game personal," MSU senior guard Diamber Johnson said. "There is always something behind it."
With less than 2 minutes remaining in the ball game, the Lady Bulldogs were hanging onto a 48-43 lead. Johnson took care of that when she knocked down a 3-pointer and did her well-known salute to the crowd.
"I felt the moment," Johnson said of her salute. "That's where all the Ole Miss people were and that was kind of that's for you."
Ole Miss head coach Renee Ladner knows how good Johnson is and how important this game is to her.
"Diamber Johnson always torches us," Ladner said. "This is a big game for her. We had a game plan and a couple of times we did it, but she pulled up and made jump shots."
It was the defense that really gave the Lady Rebels fits as they only shot 26.6 percent from the field, 15 percent from the 3-point range, and 45 percent from the free-throw line.
"As a team, we start with defense," MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said.
It showed Thursday night.
"Disappointed that we didn't have a better showing tonight," Ladner said. "I thought we shot the ball poorly. They did a good job of keeping us out of the lane and stopping penetration and stopping us from kicking the ball."
One reason why the Lady Bulldogs were successful on the defensive end was they were able to contain 6-foot-4 senior forward Nikki Byrd.
"We just couldn't knock down shots," Byrd said. "They played a lot of good defense."
The Lady Bulldogs led for most of the first half, until the Lady Rebels went on 10-1 run late in the first half to take a 24-23 lead into the locker room.
"I felt good," Ladner said of being up at half. "We are finally up. We made our run, but Mississippi State is going to come out and make (its) run."
And was she right.
The Lady Bulldogs opened the second half on a 13-4 run to take a 36-28 lead. MSU did not trail again.
The Lady Rebels stayed in the game, but were unable to get over the hump. Fanning-Otis knew the Lady Rebels were going to compete, but was proud of how her team finished out the game.
"They know there is going to be some runs," Fanning-Otis said. "You have to play every possession to play. Defend overtime down. Don't let what happened on one end affect the other end. It is how you define to adversity that defines you."
Porsha Porter, who provided a solid 29 points, saw this victory as a team win.
"We played better team defense," Porter said. "We are getting better as a team. Over the past week, I believe we are getting better as a team and as long as we work hard in practice, we will continue to be good."
Fanning-Otis agreed with that statement.
"I felt like we forced enough turnovers, got enough looks, and found a way to do it as a team," she said. "I felt like there was a lot of energy with our team and it was a great team win."
The Lady Rebels dropped to 12-7 overall and 2-4 in the SEC. Valencia McFarland led Ole Miss with 14 points. Byrd chipped in 12.
MSU improved to 12-6 and 2-3 in SEC play. Johnson led the Lady Bulldogs with a game-high 21 points. Porter added nine.
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