Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis, middle, shares in the emotion of the post-game ceremony Sunday afternoon at Humphrey Coliseum with players Martha Alwal (10) and Darriel Gaynor (2). It was the final regular season home game for Fanning-Otis, who announced her retirement last week. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis looked on during her final regular season game at Humphrey Coliseum and saw the Southeastern Conference champion Kentucky Lady Wildcats giving the type of 40-minute effort she wants out of the Lady Bulldogs.
Fanning-Otis commended her team for how hard it played at the beginning of Sunday afternoon's game against Kentucky.
It was something MSU couldn't sustain as it dropped a 76-40 decision.
"The energy and how we were playing is something we saw at various times throughout the year," Fanning-Otis said. "Getting that for a 40-minute period and getting younger players in different rotations coming in to match that is a very difficult thing.
"It's something you are going to keep working for. You know how I am. We have another basketball game ahead of us and we're going to try and prepare for that on Tuesday,"
Fanning-Otis announced her retirement last week, effective at the end of the season. This is her 17th season as the coach of the Lady Bulldogs.
Following the game against the Lady Wildcats, the Lady Bulldogs presented Fanning-Otis with flowers and a video presentation was shown.
"I have been blessed to be able to enjoy the process and to be around great people and staff," Fanning-Otis said as her voice cracked with emotion.
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, a Louisville native, shared some thoughts about Fanning-Otis.
He thanked her for spending time with him as a young high school in Mississippi and as he entered the SEC.
"She has been there for me and she has done a lot for (MSU)," Mitchell said. "She is a first-class person and her legacy here will live a long, long time."
It wasn't only the final home game for Fanning-Otis, but for six MSU seniors that were recognized prior to the game.
Diamber Johnson, Porsha Porter, Ashley Brown, Catina Bett, Danielle Rector and Judith Tabala celebrated the moment with family and friends.
Johnson recalled her four years playing for Fanning-Otis and reaching the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2010.
"To have memories like that made it more emotional for me," Johnson said. "I remember the feeling we had back then (reaching the Sweet 16) and how hard we were working for ourselves and coach Fanning.
"As far as this program, I'm sure they are going to get somebody who is going to come in and change a few things. I don't see it as a setback. It's going to be a new team, losing half the team, but they need the mindset of moving forward."
The Lady Bulldogs used the emotion of senior day to score the first basket of the game against Kentucky. Ironically, it came from the senior Bett.
Mississippi State stayed in the game early as a 3-point field goal by Kendra Grant cut a 6-2 UK lead to 6-5, then a bucket by former West Oktibbeha player Shamia Robinson closed an 8-5 gap to 8-7.
The Lady Wildcats turned up the defensive pressure from that point on and began to put separation in the score. Kentucky led 41-17 at halftime.
For the game, the Lady Bulldogs committed a season-high 33 turnovers.
The Lady Wildcats clinched the SEC regular season championship and a bye for next week's SEC Tournament with its 14-3 league mark. They are 24-5 overall.
"The reason they won a championship is because of that continued effort," Fanning-Otis said. "It's been their defense that has created so much of their offense."
The job isn't over for Fanning-Otis as the Lady Bulldogs (14-15, 4-12), who finished as the 10th seed in the league, take on Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday. The tip is set for 2:30 p.m.
Fanning-Otis said it's now a new season and the players need to think in those terms.
"The tournament is the third phase," Fanning-Otis said. "That is the beginning of it. There is always that February part and then now it's the SEC Tournament. We have an opportunity to win four games. It starts with practice Tuesday and Wednesday and it begins with the game on Thursday. Hopefully that will be the vision as we go there and we will be ready."
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