FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Just a sophomore, Marneshia Richard is
considered a wily veteran by her teammates at Mississippi State,
one of the youngest teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Richard's steadying influence at point guard can be crucial,
especially on the road as the Lady Bulldogs were Sunday against Arkansas (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today; No. 20 AP). She delivered at both ends of the floor and the result
was an 81-73 win.
On defense, she was key in forcing Arkansas into eight turnovers
in the second half -- twice what the Lady Razorbacks had given up
before intermission -- with four crucial steals. On offense, she
scored a career-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field
and 6-of-7 at the free-throw line.
The road victory for the Lady Bulldogs came in their SEC opener
in a place where Mississippi State has not found much success in
the past. It was only the second win ever by the Lady Bulldogs in
Fayetteville, their first over Arkansas since 2004.
"Marneshia is not a player who's going to score 23 points every
game because she's going to find the open person," Mississippi
State coach Sharon Fanning said. "I hope that our team can see how
hard she plays and that hard work can pay off."
Mississippi State (10-5, 1-0) started newcomers at every
position but played like veterans, hitting key free throws and
dominating the boards.
Trailing 44-34 with 18:25 left in the second half, Fanning
called a time-out to settle her squad. Coming out of that break,
Alexis Rack hit a 3-pointer and Richard got a steal and lay-up and
the deficit was trimmed in half.
Those 5 points started a 13-3 run that tied the game at 47 with
13:47 remaining. For the next 10 minutes, the two teams battled
evenly, trading the lead back and forth until a layup by Richard
with 3:29 on the clock gave the Lady Bulldogs a 68-67 edge that
Mississippi State would never relinquish.
"We kept battling," Fanning said. "That's the main thing with
a young group is getting confidence and not losing sight when
you're down 10 and can still win a ballgame. Sometimes it's easy to
lose focus at that point."
Imesia Jackson added 17 points for the visitors, with Miayorka
Johnson contributing 11 points and Rack getting 10.
Arkansas (15-3, 0-2) led 40-34 at halftime after three-pointers
by Donica Cosby and Dominique Washington. The Lady Razorbacks had
held the Lady Bulldogs to 38 percent shooting before the break.
But after intermission, Arkansas hit just 1-of-10 three-point
attempts, with Cosby 1-of-7 from long distance.
Sarah Pfeifer topped Arkansas' offensive effort with a
season-high 21 points, while Cosby finished with 19. Arkansas post
player Lauren Ervin played just nine minutes in the first half
after picking up a pair of early fouls and finished with 12 points.
Pfeifer lamented the 0-2 conference start.
"It was definitely a game we felt like we needed to win," she
said. "We know there are a lot of games left. Everybody's probably
going to lose games they thought they were going to win and win
games they probably should have lost."