STARKVILLE, Miss., - New Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer wrapped his arms around both Martha Alwal and Kendra Grant embracing his two star players and thanking them for a job well done.
Schaefer expects big things from Alwal and Grant this season and that is exactly what he got in the Lady Bulldogs season opener Friday night. The sophomore duo combined for 45 points in a 72-66 victory over Houston in Schaefer's debut.
"I'm very proud of our kids tonight," Schaefer said. "I'm satisfied. I think they've worked awfully hard to be in this position and have the opportunity tonight. It's a great reward for their hard work. The kids have worked harder than they probably have in their life. To see them rewarded with a victory in a close, hard-fought game and see them compete to the very end."
Alwal posted a double-double by halftime and finished with 23 points and 18 rebounds to pace both teams. Alwal was 7-of-17 from the field and had converted 9-of-10 from the free throw line. She also brought down 11 offensive boards and rejected four shots.
"Last year I was defensive-minded and that's all I wanted to do," Alwal said. "I didn't care for scoring. This year coach is trying to get me more involved on offense and try to work on that."
Grant went 8-of-18 from the floor and narrowly missed a double-double with nine rebounds.
"I really wanted to redeem myself," Grant said. "I did okay but could have done a lot better in the scrimmage that we had against Shorter. My mindset for this game was redemption so I think I did pretty well at that."
Darriel Gaynor chipped in eight points as MSU shot 31.9-percent for the game. The Lady Bulldogs also outrebounded Houston 65-39 on the night.
"In 28 years, I've never had a team get 65 rebounds," Schaefer said. "That's an unbelievable stat."
State fell behind by six quickly to start the game but rallied back and led by as many as seven in the first half before the Lady Cougars pulled within 32-28 by halftime.
Houston continued to chip away at the lead and regained their advantage 7:38 into the second half. The two teams battled back and forth from that point on until Gaynor drained a clutch 3-pointer in the corner with 2:29 remaining to go up by six.
"It was a very competitive game down the stretch," Schaefer said. "When we came out at the four minute mark and up by three, that's our job as a staff to get these kids home. I thought the kids got us home. They did a wonderful job and competed for 40 minutes."
The Lady Bulldogs went on to hit six free throws from there to pick up their first win of the season.
Houston shot 31.6-percent for the game and were only 1-of-10 behind the arc in the second half.
Porsche Landry paced the Lady Cougars with 16 points on 6-of-23 shooting while Marissa Ashton added 12 points including four treys before fouling out with just over a minute to play.
Jessieka Palmer also added 10 points in 15 minutes off the bench for Houston as the fell to 0-1 on the campaign.
Mississippi State will be back in action Monday hosting Hampton at 7 p.m.