GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) As Morgan William watched the film of Mississippi State’s loss to Tennessee to end the regular season, she kept thinking the same thing over and over.
”It was like, `This isn’t us. This isn’t what got us here,”’ William said.
The sixth-ranked Bulldogs showed a lot of what’s made them one of the country’s best teams in a 78-61 victory over LSU to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals for a second straight season Friday night.
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William had 21 points and Teaira McCowan, selected the conference’s top reserve this week, scored 13 of her 15 in the final 13 minutes. It was a welcome result for Mississippi State (28-3), which squandered its chance at an SEC crown with its lone two-game losing streak in the season’s final week.
”In practice we just worked on everything that we’re supposed to be doing,” William said. ”It’s good to finally show that we’re back.”
The Bulldogs were a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in the last reveal before their consecutive losses. They’d likely need to win the SEC Tournament, probably with a championship-game defeat of regular-season league winner South Carolina, in order to get back there.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer is not concerned about that now. He’s simply glad to see the Bulldogs back on the winning track.
”Thought our kids showed some toughness tonight and some resilience,” he said.
Mississippi State will face Texas A&M – and Schaefer’s longtime boss in Aggies coach Gary Blair – on Saturday for a spot in the title game.
The Bulldogs trailed 39-37 with less than three minutes to play in the third quarter when the 6-foot-7 McCowan and fellow reserve Ketara Chapel fueled a 21-12 run over the next eight minutes to move in front. Mississippi State needed every bit of their inside play because all-SEC first-team selection Victoria Vivians was held to five points – the first time in 24 games she did not reach double figures.
Raigyne Moncrief, the SEC’s defensive player of the year, powered the Tigers’ offense with a career-high 25 points.
Chapel added 10 for the Bulldogs, all in the second half.
LSU (20-11) trailed only 56-51 after Moncrief’s jumper with 5:23 remaining, but the Tigers wore down after that.
LSU: The Tigers have enjoyed a turnaround season, a 10-win team a year ago that’s doubled that number and, most likely, locked up an NCAA Tournament spot. LSU wasn’t resting on that against the highly favored Bulldogs. The Tigers played tight defense and pushed the pace against Mississippi State. LSU used an 8-2 run at the start of the second quarter to tie it and remained close the rest of the opening half. The Tigers tightened their defense against Vivians, who missed all four of her shots and committed four turnovers the first two quarters.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs’ slide continued somewhat in the first two periods against LSU. Mississippi State followed a 60-percent shooting first quarter with a 27 percent second quarter. The Bulldogs made just one of eight shots to start the second period. Hard to watch from a team that’s second in SEC scoring at better than 75 points a game this season.
Schaefer was not certain Chapel would play after she took a hard spill in practice and hurt her back. But Chapel had a big impact, making all four of her shots with little evidence of pain. ”She went down in practice in a heap,” Schaefer said. ”She went down and stayed down.”
Tigers coach Nikki Fargas said she’ll have her team practicing for an expected NCAA Tournament bid when the group returns to campus. LSU forward Alexis Hyder thinks the loss to Mississippi State just adds motivation to the postseason. ”This adds some fuel for us,” she said. ”We’re more hungry than we’ve ever been.”
LSU awaits a likely NCAA Tournament bid.
Mississippi State takes on Texas A&M in the semifinals Saturday.
This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Morgan William.