Vanderbilt (22-8) will now meet second-seeded Tennessee (21-8) in a tournament quarterfinal matchup at 2:30 p.m. Friday. For MSU, the season ends at 14-16. The Lady Bulldogs had won their opening-round tournament game in each of the last three seasons.
The defeat also meant the end of the coaching career for Sharon Fanning-Otis. Coach Fanning-Otis announced her retirement last week after 17 seasons as head coach for the Maroon and White. The all-time winningest coach in MSU women's basketball history, Fanning-Otis posted a 281-232 mark while at MSU.
During her tenure, the Lady Bulldogs advanced to the postseason 11 times, including the school's only six appearances in the NCAA Women's Tournament. A 36-year coaching veteran, Fanning-Otis recorded a 608-460 mark, while becoming the first coach to carry the women's program to the Sweet Sixteen. In the Sweet Sixteen season of 2010, MSU won 21 games and lost to Florida State in regional semifinal round.
"Our basketball program has been in the finals of an SEC championship," Fanning-Otis said. "We've been to a Sweet Sixteen. It's time now for Mississippi State to step up and to win a championship and get to the Elite Eight and the Final Four. I look forward to following that progress."
Vanderbilt scored seven straight points to sprint to an early 9-2 advantage. The Maroon and White were back within five on a Porsha Porter tip-in. Vanderbilt then used a 10-2 run to build a 21-8 advantage with 10:14 left before halftime.
The Lady Commodores would lead by as many as 14 in the opening half and led 34-22 at halftime.
"Vanderbilt is a great team," Fanning-Otis said. "When I look at their scoring, I see four people in double figures, a couple more knocking on the door. They've had several people that have done that, several different rotations. When we went in at halftime, I felt if we could take care of the basketball, have some consistent effort, and make some more shots fall, we would have a chance.
"We got within three. It was a tremendous team effort. I was really proud of them."
Vanderbilt managed only two field goals over the first 11 minutes of the game's final half. A 3-pointer by MSU's Diamber Johnson brought the Lady Bulldogs within three, at 40-37 with 12:22 left. Still protecting a 42-39 lead, the Lady Commodores used a 10-2 run to re-establish a double-digit advantage.
In her final game with the Lady Bulldogs, Johnson led the way with 14 points. Porter also capped her MSU career with 12 points, two assists and five steals.
"Well, I've been here for four years," said Johnson, a Pontotoc native. "Every year, you look at my career, it's grown every year. It's because of this woman here to the left of me. She's guided me in every aspect on and off the court, has really helped me become who I am today on and off the court."
For the contest, the Lady Bulldogs hit 22 of 63 shots from the field (34.9 percent), 3 of 11 shots from 3-point range (27.3 percent) and 4 of 7 shots from the foul line (57.1 percent). The Lady Commodores hit 20 of 47 shots from the field (42.6 percent), 6 of 12 shots from 3-point range (50.0 percent) and 21 of 25 shots from the foul line (84.0 percent).
Vanderbilt held a 41-28 rebounding advantage. The Lady Bulldogs had six assists and 14 turnovers, while the Lady Commodores had 10 assists and 22 turnovers.
"I just want to thank Coach Fanning-Otis for giving me the opportunity to play at Mississippi State," said Porter, a Chicago native. "She has taught me well on and off the court. I'm going to miss her. I'm going to miss my teammates."
Vanderbilt received 18 points from Christina Foggie and 13 points from Jasmine Lister. Stephanie Holzer posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.