Ray's 27 points spark upset of No. 19 Mississippi State
ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands — Though the Rutgers women's basketball team had only five players on the court against Mississippi State Friday, they may as well have had six the way Brittany Ray was scoring.
The Scarlet Knights rode a career day from the senior guard to their first victory over a ranked opponent this season, downing the No. 19 Bulldogs 62-54 in the middle game of the Paradise Jam.
Ray shot a blistering 54.5 percent from the floor and finished with 27 points, a new career high. Whether driving the lane or shooting from beyond the arc, Ray always seemed to find a way to score, putting up 15 in the first half alone.
"In the beginning of the game I felt good, in the warm up … I was getting a little enthusiastic and my teammates were pumping me up," Ray said. "My coaches just told me to keep shooting the ball and I would get my shot back, and I think I did that today."
The senior has been vital for the Scarlet Knights' offense this season, leading the team with 14.7 points per game. But Ray also played strong on both ends of the court, snatching four defensive rebounds.
"Brittany just refuses to lose," said Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer. "Her mind set was that ‘Hey, it's time for us to win,' and she's been saying that in all the games we've played.
"Even [after Rutgers lost by one to Georgia] she looked like she was ready to cry, but rather than cry she just played her tail off."
While the Knights' defense was on point in the paint Friday night, on Saturday they defended well just about everywhere.
Rutgers held Mississippi State to 29 percent shooting as a team, including 19.4 percent in the first half, and the Bulldogs' leading scorer Alexis Rack shot 8-of-27 from the floor. The Knights out-rebounded Mississippi State 39-38.
Freshman forward Monique Oliver narrowly missed the first double-double of her career, finishing with nine points and nine boards – all defensive.
Though she saw less action than Thursday night after picking up quick fouls in the first and second halves, sophomore forward Chelsey Lee carried over her strong defensive play. Lee grabbed seven rebounds and scored four points.
Senior center Rashidat Junaid also posted big numbers in limited time, finishing with six points and nine rebounds in 13 minutes.
"I think we did certain things that we needed to do, and I think in the latter part of the game we had people in foul trouble so they didn't stop the dribble penetration the way we should," Stringer said. "But other than I thought the defense was where it should have been."
For a stretch in the second half, it appeared anything the Knights shot at the basket would fall.
Drawing triple coverage on a hard drive to the basket, Ray found a hole and drew the foul, converting on the three-point play. Less than a minute later, Oliver scooped the ball on an off-balanced toss that somehow bounced in the hoop and added a free throw of her own to push the Knights' lead to 12.
Though Rutgers led by as many as 19 points in the second half, a late push cut it to seven.
That was as close is it would get.
A bucket by Ray and a deep three from sophomore forward April Sykes helped the Knights pull away for good.
Sykes finished the game with 12 points — second highest on the team — three steals and three rebounds, shooting 40 percent from three-point range.
"Coach always emphasizes the team and that somebody has to show up for each game, like the first game Chelsey Lee showed up for 15 points and 12 rebounds," Ray said. "Monique continues to come off the bench and give us a spark, and [Junaid] did a good job for us today. It's just a team effort, and if we continue to do that we'll continue to win ball games."
Though they picked up their first win over a ranked foe this season, the Knights' biggest test of the tournament comes tomorrow when they take on No. 13 Texas in the final game of the Paradise Jam.
"Texas is so well organized," Stringer said. "And Texas is big and strong on the inside so we have to rebound and come out strong. We know we have to rebound, that's the key, but we'll be alright when it's time."