STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State won the Women's National Invitation Tournament Sunday afternoon on the defensive end.
In a wild-and-wooly offensive showdown, MSU found its second gear on the defensive end to pull away to an 88-77 victory over Western Kentucky before a crowd of 3,773, the seventh largest in Humphrey Coliseum history.
MSU (4-0) won all four games it played to capture its first tournament title since the 2006-07 season. However, the Bulldogs had to work awfully hard to keep its perfect start intact.
"What a heck of a basketball game," MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. "Western Kentucky has a competitive fire and spirit. I thought we were out-toughed and out-hustled a lot today. But in the last seven or eight minutes, our kids decided they had had enough.
"When we get in attack mode, we have a chance. There were some great defensive plays. We had enough of being out-played. Give Western Kentucky credit for that. We wore them down. We had a few more bodies and we played hard until the end."
Western Kentucky (3-1), an NCAA tournament team a season ago, shot 47.4 percent in the opening half but was held to 38.7 percent shooting in the second half. The Bulldogs committed 22 turnovers in the contest, but only five in the game's final half.
The teams went back-and-forth in the early stages. Western Kentucky held a 16-12 lead but MSU rallied for a 20-18 lead on a Ketara Chapel putback. The Bulldogs' biggest lead in the first half was three points at 29-26 on a jumper by Morgan William with 6:34 left in the half.
MSU fell down by as many as seven (at 42-35) and still trailed 42-39 at halftime.
"I am proud of the kids for sticking with it," Schaefer said. "There were not a lot of timeouts. I tell the players we want to coach your mind, not your heart. Finally down the stretch, we had that extra effort you have to have in a game like this.
"We are playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores. It is fun to coach this team because you are watching them grow up before your eyes."
Tournament Most Valuable Player Victoria Vivians provided a big spark while collecting her first double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds). Chapel and Morgan William each had 17 points to lead the MSU offensive attack. Dominique Dillingham also had 10 points for MSU.
"This felt good but we feel like we have a lot more to do," Vivians said. "We are not satisfied. We know it's a good start but we can only get better."
Chapel joined Vivians on the all-tournament team.
In the second half, MSU trailed by seven on three occasions and nine once (at 61-52 with 13:13 left). Charges by Dillingham and Chapel, as well as two defensive stops by Vivians helped spark the rally. A jumper by Vivians gave MSU the lead for good at 70-69 with 6:57 left.
MSU would eventually put together a 12-2 run to build a 74-69 advantage on a layup by Vivians with 5:57 left. After WKU closed within one at 76-75, the Bulldogs scored the game's next 10 points as the Lady Toppers had three players foul out during the stretch.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 30 of 66 shots from the field (45.5 percent), 2 of 9 shots from 3-point range (22.2 percent) and 26 of 31 shots from the foul line (83.9 percent). The Lady Toppers hit 30 of 69 shots from the field (43.5 percent), 3 of 13 shots from 3-point range (23.1 percent) and 14 of 18 shots from the foul line (77.8 percent).
MSU held a 42-40 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 22 turnovers, while the Lady Toppers had 14 assists and 24 turnovers.
Dillingham six steals, while William had five assists and four steals. Jerica James had four assists.
"We just had to get stops," Dillingham said. "We just had to get everybody on the same page. We knew once we got some defensive stops, we were in good shape."
Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch each had 20 points for Western Kentucky, while Kendall Noble had 19 points. Both Gooch (14 rebounds) and Noble (10 rebounds) finished with double-doubles.
MSU closes a season-opening homestand Tuesday against Louisiana-Monroe. Tip for the SEC Network + broadcast is 7 p.m.