And she did. White scored ten of her game-best 34 points in the extra period to make her homecourt finale a winning one as Mississippi State outlasted Auburn 75-68 Sunday afternoon in Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs ended their regular season 17-10 overall and 6-8 SEC, and will be seeded sixth in this week's SEC Tournament. They will take on #11 seed Arkansas Thursday evening in Greenville, S.C.
Auburn, also 6-8 SEC, will be the #7 seed and play Kentucky. The Tigers are 15-12 overall.
By fluke of league scheduling, the last day of the regular season matched two teams in near-identical situations regarding both league tourney seedings and postseason possibilities. The loser could almost certainly forget about a NCAA bid, while the winner would keep hope alive. So play Sunday was intense both ways with surges by each side.
The Bulldogs appeared ready to take control with a 14-2 surge over five minutes, turning a three-point deficit into a 49-40 lead at the 10:00 mark. The advantage was still eight points as late as 4:50 after a Rebecca Kates layup. But Auburn rallied, got four points from Natasha Brackett in the last minute, and tied the count with 18 seconds left.
White never gave up the ball until pumping up a 24-footer that was good…and not. Studying the two review angles available on MSU's replay system, and calling in the third official, the crew finally said the shot was still on the hand as the backboard lights glowed. Sideline observers thought White had carried the ball before the shot anyway, but it was irrelevant.
Besides, White said, "The worst thing that could happen was we'd play five more minutes. I was ready." That was an understatement; 18 seconds after re-tipoff White knocked down a legitimate trey and State was in front to stay. At 3:22 White stuck another threeball, her seventh of the day.
Layups by Blessing Chekwa and Tiania Burns offset Auburn baskets, and White sealed the win with two free throws each at 27 and 11 seconds. "We came out composed in overtime and put it away," she said.
Coach Sharon Fanning was pleased both with the win and how her team handled the end-of-regulation swing of emotions, from celebration to preparation. "We all felt it was good, but the first thing I said to Tan was get the team ready for overtime," Fanning said.
The Bulldogs were ready for regulation, bolting to a 13-5 lead with three treys (two by White) in the first three minutes. Auburn caught up and took a six-point lead of their own at 8:19 of the half, but State outscored the Tigers 10-4 to end the period and lead 32-29 at intermission.
Brackett led three Tigers in double-digits with 22 points, and Auburn made nine three-pointers. But the Bulldogs did better than that with 11 longballs, White making 7-of-8 at the arc, and despite a marked size disadvantage State controlled the boards 41-32. Junior Doceide Warren had ten points, and only six Dogs in all scored with guard Ebonie Ferguson providing all eight bench points.
"It was a huge team win for us and a step we wanted to take going into the SEC Tournament," Fanning said.
Indeed the Dogs turn all attention now to the weekend meet, where they still may need at least one more win to strengthen a case for NCAA favor. "At this point we have to take one game at a time," White said. "We knocked out this win, now we're talking about going into the SEC Tournament. We just have to carry it over."
State knows something about the upcoming opponent, too. It was Arkansas that beat the Bulldogs in Fayetteville back on January 16, 83-71, snapping a 12-game MSU winning streak and starting a stretch where the Dogs lost seven of eight league contests. "We owe them one," senior guard Burns said, "they ended our streak."
Fanning's team just barely recovered from the tailspin to win three of their final four regular-season games and renew postseason optimism. The coach doesn't know how many more wins the Dogs may or may not need now that they are in the top-half of the final league standings. "Typically we've had this number or more from our league go, so finishing this way was big for us. The only thing we can control is how we play Thursday night. Just focus on what we can do."
And at least the Bulldogs showed they could wrap up a home season in style..even if it meant playing more than the scheduled 40 minutes. "I think we could have lasted however long it took!" said White at the end of the last game-day in The Hump for herself, Burns, Kates, and Ferguson.