GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Jordan Danberry knew exactly when things turned around for No. 9 Mississippi State in its SEC Tournament opener — when reserve Andra Espinoza-Hunter connected from long range at the end of the first half.
Espinoza-Hunter hit a 35-footer as the buzzer sounded, the 3 putting the defending tournament champions up 26-25 instead of trailing at the break.
“I really think Andy’s shot before the half ended gave us a lot of momentum, a lot of energy,” Danberry said.
It sure showed as Mississippi State pulled away the final two quarters for a 79-49 victory to reach the tournament semifinals for a fifth consecutive season.
The Tigers were ahead 23-16 after Awa Trasi’s 3-pointer with 5:15 left before the break.
But after a timeout, the Bulldogs dug in and found their defense as they limited LSU to 1-of-5 shooting and forced two turnovers the rest of the period.
They got a big-time boost by Espinoza-Hunter’s long-distance shot as time ran out. Her teammates rushed the junior to celebrate. After a brief official review as both teams left the court, the basket was ruled good to give Mississippi State a lead it would not surrender.
Khayla Pointer had 14 points to lead LSU, which has not advanced to the semifinals here since 2015.
THE BIG PICTURE
LSU: The Tigers crossed a threshhold in Thursday’s second-round win over Florida, earning that 20th victory on the season that should remove any remaining doubt about LSU getting into the NCAA Tournament.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs needed a jolt to get them started and Espinoza-Hunter’s three did the trick this time. Mississippi State might not have the luxury of waiting on such moments going forward here and in the NCAAs to come. The Bulldogs will need to be sharper earlier if they hope to last when the competition toughens.
Mississippi State leading scorer Rickea Jackson started on the bench Friday night for just the sixth time in 31 games this season. Was there a reason? “Yes,” Schaefer said. Was she serving a suspension? “No,” Schaefer finished.
LSU coach Nikki Vargas plans to give her team time to rest, workout to keep somewhat sharp and watch plenty of film before the NCAA Tournament selections on March 16.”We can get better mentally through watching film on ourselves,” Fargas said.
LSU awaits a likely berth in the NCAA Tournament
Mississippi State will play in Saturday’s semifinals.