Sophomore center Martha Alwal got off to a quick start for the Lady Bulldogs, recording a block and four points to give the Lady Dogs an early 4-3 lead in the first two minutes of the game.
But on the defensive end the Lady Bulldogs could not contain Houston's fastbreak early and struggled to limit the outside shot, with Houston making two of four beyond the arc in the first four minutes to jump ahead of the Lady Dogs 10-6.
Later in the first half sophomore Kendra Grant found her offensive groove, making two quick pull up jumpers and drawing the foul to bring the Bulldogs within three. Alwal also continued to shine with three blocks and four rebounds midway through the first half. However, turnovers continued to plague the team with the Lady Bulldogs having seven after ten minutes.
But Schaefer's team overcame the turnovers and picked up their first lead with a quick post shot from Alwal on an assist from Brittany Young.
The Lady Bulldogs continued to gain momentum in the half with a long jumper from sophomore guard Jerica James that put them ahead 20-17. Mississippi State went on an 8-2 run towards the end of the first half, closing out with a score of 32-28. Martha Alwal scored 15 of the Bulldogs first half points.
Kendra Grant kick-started the second half by opening with four quick points and one rebound in the first two minutes to put the Lady Dogs ahead 36-29.
Down low, Martha Alwal continued her inside dominance and had twenty points by the middle of the second half.
With a little over two minutes left in the game, senior guard Darriel Gaynor lifted the team with a critical three-pointer followed by a steal on the opposing end. The steal led to Alwal drawing a foul down low and making one of two free throws, giving the Bulldogs a 67-60 lead.
Mississippi State held on to the lead in the final minutes thanks to a strong offensive rebounding effort.
Lady Bulldogs head coach Vic Schaefer was proud of the effort of his team.
"We talked about being an SEC team," said the first-year head coach. "We talked about playing hard. We talked about being a tough, aggressive basketball team."
The Lady Bulldog's top scorers were Martha Alwal with 23 points and Kendra Grant with 22. Mississippi State shot 22-69 (32%) from the field, while Houston was 25-79 (32%). The Lady Bulldogs out-rebounded the Cougars 65-39 and were 25-34 (74%) from the charity strike.
Martha Alwal not only stood out on the offensive end but was just as dominant on the defensive end, recording four block shots and eighteen rebounds in her 38 minutes of play.
"Last year I was defensive minded," said Alwal. "This year coach is trying to get me more involved in offense. When we (Kendra and Martha) do well the rest of the team feeds off of us."
The Lady Bulldogs next opponent is Hampton at home on Monday November 12 at 7 PM.
Carew Ferguson is a feature writer for the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.