The Bulldog defense strengthened in the 71-66 win over the strong Colorado State squad

Sam Purcell wasn’t joking Friday night when he said he was bracing for what was to come on Sunday in Mississippi State’s game against Alabama State.

The first-year Bulldog coach had already caught one glimpse of the Colorado State film and knew he had a fight ahead of him. The Rams proved that and then some when the game tipped.

State had to brace for a tough first quarter on the defensive side of the ball and struggled for four quarters, but endurance went in the home team’s favor. A great defense in the last 10 minutes brought State through with a 71-66 win and made for a quality win for the Bulldogs.

“Wow, what a game,” Purcell said. “If I’m a little nervous or a little worried, my eyes didn’t lie (Sunday). Your ability to place the ball, shoot the three but most of all get down and keep the pressure on you for 40 minutes was incredible. I told our team before we left that we’re going to see if we learned anything from that loss to South Dakota State. I learned a lot about my team.”

It was a fairly even game for the two teams as both shot about 45% from the field. The Bulldogs were 25 of 56 while Colorado State was 24 of 54, and they traded hit for hit. The difference was in the rebound, as State owned the glass with 44 rebounds to CSU’s 21.

The Rams were 13-of-28 from 3-point range while the Bulldogs were a strong 10-of-19 from long range. MSU had 16 turnovers to CSU’s nine, and the Rams also won on assists, 18-15.

It was a wild first quarter in Starkville between the two teams. Both teams shot 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes with nine total from the two teams as State took a 25-21 lead after a quarter. After neither team could be stopped offensively in the first third, both turned up.

“We just had to talk. We had to open our mouths to communicate. We also had to be on the support side so when they drive to be there in the gaps that really helped us,” said Denae Carter.

In the second minute, the focus was on the defense, which was closely connected in the final minute. The Bulldogs had eight points about 9 minutes into the second quarter, but defense would lead to good shots from Debreasha Powe, and she knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to end the half, giving State their biggest lead of the night 39-33 towards the dressing room.

CSU reduced their lead to 1 point in the third quarter before the Bulldogs went on the offensive. MSU went back down to six points, 58-52. In the fourth frame, the Bulldogs offense and defense began to take full control, and Denae Carter’s bucket from a time-out gave the team its biggest lead at 68-55 with 4:55 left.

But that bucket would be the last bucket MSU would do for the rest of the night. CSU kept the Bulldogs without a field goal the rest of the way for nearly 5 minutes and began fighting back into it. Four hits in the last five shots for CSU cut the lead to three points with a second left foot shot, but Powe secured the win with two free throws for the final score.

Anastasia Hayes had her third straight double-digit score as the senior guard recovered from two single-digit games. Hayes had a team-high 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting with 4-of-9 marks from 3-point range. She almost got a triple double with 10 rebounds and six assists in 38 minutes.

“The last two days I’ve really gotten into my scout and just read the defense. They played against me and I saw them play that way on defense,” Hayes said. “I was ready to play ball when it came time to shoot. This is my last year. I want to go out there with a bang and play really hard and do whatever it takes to bring the win for my team.

“I’m in a different position, but I’m for it. I am everything for the team and everything for the win. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

Also in double digits jessica carter as she finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Denae Carter provided another splash off the bench with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting with seven boards in 20 minutes.

It’s Thanksgiving break time now, but there will be no breaks for the Bulldogs. State will travel to Puerto Rick this week for the Puerto Rico Clasico in two challenging games. MSU (4-1) begins a matchup against Georgetown on Friday at 10 a.m. and takes on Nebraska on Saturday at 12:30 p.m

The games are broadcast through the FloSports app and fans have to pay a subscription to the ball games. It’s already been a tough first few games and the Bulldogs will be challenged again.

“They have quick turnaround times so I can learn a lot about my team, so hopefully I’ll have that back in March,” Purcell said. “We will celebrate (Sunday) but work on the opponent tomorrow. On the islands I give them two hours and work on the opponent.

“Being able to bring my team to San Juan is a statement and it’s a lot better when you win. This plane ride will be much nicer.”