Starkville Daily News

Postseason future looking brighter for MSU


There is a light at the end of the tunnel for Mississipp­i State women's basketball after three years without a postseason and the light is getting brighter and brighter.

To get that elusive NCAA Tournament berth, though, State just has to keep winning. The Bulldogs are 18-7 for the year with a 7-5 mark in Southeaste­rn Conference play and should really only need a couple of more wins to feel good about their chances. One thing is for sure though – winning will take care of it all.

The players know that. When asked on Sunday night if the team talked about postseason, both Anastasia Hayes and Ahlana Smith emphatical­ly answered, ‘yes.' A three-game winning streak is testament to the team understand­ing where they are and improving.

“These are the moments that matter the most,” Hayes said. “These are the important games. I've been working and watching film with coach and I feel like that's helped me a lot to be able to learn from my mistakes from the other games.”

The Bulldogs are currently one of six teams in the SEC with a winning record in conference play and a threegame winning streak has pushed the team to just over the middle of the standings. There's a chance to rise even higher and the more wins the better the position of the postseason fate becomes.

It's taken some growing pains to get the team to buy in to a total-team effort in head coach Sam Purcell's first year. It hasn't always been one mindset throughout the roster and there were some roles that players had to play as well.

“We've got to go through some stuff,” Purcell said. “We've got to have some hard times and we've got to have some good times. When you go through adversity, you grow and you grow stronger. What I see right now is we've been through these moments and now let's seize the opportunit­y and make the most of it.”

Now, Purcell has a team that is getting more consistent and playing more cohesive with each passing game. Jessika Carter has been steady pretty much all year and is averaging 14.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game to lead the team.

Jerkaila Jordan has really stepped up with 10.9 points and five rebounds a game along with 2.1 steals. Anastasia Hayes has had a little different role this year from her high scoring past and is one of the league leaders with 109 assists for the year, but she's also becoming more assertive on offense in recent weeks and is averaging 8.4 points a contest.

Freshman Debreasha Powe has started every game and the bench has been a tremendous spark. With the team getting more healthy and Denae Carter and Ramani Parker back to give some good

minutes off the bench with a heartbeat like Asianae Johnson, MSU has become a deep team that hopes to never miss much of a beat when certain players come in the game.

“That was kind of our M-O knowing that we have depth and we have to utilize that depth,” Smith said. “I think that's what separates good teams and great teams is knowing that we can use all 15 players on our bench. Of course, the starting five is huge, but that bench is a spark. That last person on that bench is just as important as our starting point guard. I think we're all locked in mentally and ready for whatever.”

Missouri enters tonight's 7p.m. matchup on SEC Network+ looking to put a stop to this run by State. The Tigers are 15-10 this season and 4-8 in league play, but they've also put a charge in good teams at home.

Missouri lost by three points to Tennessee and were in the game in a sevenpoint loss against Alabama last week. It's a team that's up and down, but State has had its own inconsiste­ncies at times. Coming out and taking care of business gets the Bulldogs one step closer to clinching a postseason berth.

The players won't just be satisfied with that.

“Not just make the tournament, but make a deep run,”

Smith said of the goals ahead. “It's more than just getting your name called. We want to make a deep run.”

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