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Dukes knock off Lady Bulldogs in heartbreaker

[03/21/01] STARKVILLE The look on the face of Cynthia Hall portrayed how disappointed she was with the way her career at Mississippi State ended.

James Madison’s Jess Cihowicz made a layup with 1.3 seconds left, ending the Lady Bulldogs’ rocky season in the third round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

“I saw the defense spreading and I got a good shot off,” Cihowicz said after the Dukes’ 63-61 win to advance to the final four of the tourney.

In front of a raucous crowd of 2,224 at Humphrey Coliseum, the Lady Bulldogs (17-14) got off to a slow start. They shot 26 percent from the floor and trailed 31-16 at the half.

“It was frustrating in the first half,” Hall, a former Vicksburg High star, said as beads of tears rolled off her cheek. “We focused better and pulled ourselves together as a team in the second half.”

In the second half, Hall seemed determined to prolong her career for at least another game. She scored 12 points including three 3-pointers, dished out four assists and came up with seven steals.

“I knew we needed a big step on defense,” she said.

One of her steals came at a crucial moment. Trailing 61-58 with 16.9 seconds remaining, Hall intercepted a long pass that was heading toward a wide-open Lady Duke. Hall was fouled on the play.

She missed the free throw on the one-and-one but Jennifer Fambrough, who finished with 15 points, grabbed the rebound and was also fouled.

Fambrough made the first free throw but missed the second to pull within two points.

But LaToya Thomas, who managed to score 21 points despite a sprained thumb, gave MSU the ball back on a jump ball.

Meadow Overstreet was fouled on the inbound play and sank both free throws to tie the game at 61-61, setting the stage for the game-winner.

“I think we have had 14 games decided in the last minute and we have won 10 of them,” James Madison coach Bud Childers said.

At the beginning of the season, Hall was moved from shooting guard to point guard. During the transition, she watched her 12.7 average from a year ago decrease to 7.3. But Hall never complained.

“Cynthia is a great kid,” MSU coach Sharon Fanning said. “In all of the years I have coached, I cannot remember a player who has worked harder than Cynthia. I cannot remember a player who made the most improvements she has … then accepted a role that she was not familiar with. “That tells you what type of person she was. She has led this team all year. She has always put the team first.”

When Hall arrived on the Starkville campus, Lady Bulldog basketball was not appealing. They had never had a winning record in Southeastern Conference play and their last winning record was 14-13 in 1992-93. MSU went 14-15 Hall’s first year on the squad.

But the team made strides, going over .500 her last three seasons, and going to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments her sophomore and junior seasons. They also made it to the finals of the SEC Tournament last season, barely falling to national powerhouse Tennessee.

The Lady Bulldogs entered this season ranked 16th in preseason polls but struggled all year long.

During that time, Hall became MSU’s career leader in 3-pointers (148) and games played (120).

“It feels great to accomplish all those things,” Hall said.

But those records did not drive Hall winning did.

Hall finished with a 72-48 record at MSU. That’s better than any other former Lady Bulldog.

“She’s a winner and a class person,” Fanning said. “She put everything on the line today.”