By Matt Green
STARKVILLE, Miss. – What's the best way to test your team's mental and physical fortitude after losing seven seniors to graduation? How about traveling to a Southeastern Conference school for your first exhibition of the new season.
That's exactly what Vic Mitchell chose to do with his Lady Hawks, and his girls almost made a huge splash just 12 days away from their regular season opener.
Host Mississippi State got 13 points each from Katia May and Carnecia Williams and got just enough defense in the second half to hold off a pesky Shorter University squad, 55-49, in a women's basketball exhibition on Friday night at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.
The Bulldogs, who went 14-16 overall and 4-12 in the SEC last season, had to fight back from a 10-point deficit in the first half, a period during which the NCAA Division I program led for all of 1:35 before holding off several charges from the Lady Hawks in the second stanza.
Karisma Boykin paced Shorter with 14 points on 6-for-18 shooting while Kristin Nash added 12 points and five steals to lead all players. Shelby Farrer pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with seven points for the Lady Hawks, who scored the first nine points of the game, led 12-2 at the 14:16 mark of the first half and held the host Bulldogs to 32 percent shooting for the night.
Shorter, which tied a school record with 28 wins a season ago while advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Championship in its final NAIA season, has plenty of unknowns entering this year's campaign, having lost seven seniors from last year's group, including the program's only three-time All-American in point guard and all-time assists leader Kelly Ellison.
Boykin, playing in her first action as a Lady Hawk after transferring from Georgia College and State and sitting out last year, was tremendous in Ellison's stead, scoring or assisting on 10 of Shorter's first 12 points as the Lady Hawks went up 12-2 on one of Boykin's two 3-pointers early in the first half. She scored seven points in each half, dished out three assists and played 35 minutes before fouling out with 20 seconds left in the game.
Nash, who came to Shorter from Belmont University and also sat out last season, showed glimpses of her versatility, hitting two 3-pointers and snatching six rebounds from her shooting guard position. 10 of her points and four of her five steals came in the first half as Shorter went into the locker room down just 25-24.
Mississippi State, playing for the first time under new head coach Vic Schaefer, was unable to find an offensive rhythm against a stout Shorter defense, which ranked No. 1 in the NAIA in field goal percentage defense last season.
Down 22-17 after a Nash 3, the Bulldogs used an 8-2 run over the final 3:17 of the first half to grab a 1-point lead heading into the break, then got a May layup and Candace Foster jumper to open the second half and take a 29-24 lead.
Shorter closed the gap to one on several occasions in the second half, the last being when Ieshia Alexander, who went 6-for-6 from the foul line, hit two free throws to make it 45-44 with 4:42 remaining in the game, but a 3-pointer by Williams capped a mini 5-0 spurt that put Mississippi State up 50-44 moments later and two foul shots by May gave MSSU its largest lead of the game, 52-45, with 29 seconds left.
Mississippi State managed 39 percent shooting in the second half while holding Shorter to 23 percent in the final, decisive frame. Shorter went just 4-for-22 from 3-point range on the night and made just 13 of 22 from the foul line, but never wavered in nearly pulling off what would have been a huge upset.
The Lady Hawks held Mississippi State to 1 of 9 shooting from beyond the arc while forcing 23 Bulldog turnovers. Shorter also pulled 18 offensive rebounds.
Shorter completes its exhibition schedule later today against Atlantic Coast Conference foe Florida State University in Tallahassee. Tip off is scheduled for 2 pm.