Lady Bulldogs Win SEC Tournament Opener

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Mississippi State erased a 18-point first half deficit, storming back to knock off South Carolina 49-39 in a first-round game of the Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament being played in Alltel Arena.

The sixth-seeded Lady Bulldogs improved to 22-8 and will face third-seeded LSU (17-9) in a 9 p.m. CT quarterfinal matchup Friday night. MSU will be looking for an unprecedented third victory over the Lady Tigers during the 2008-09 season. For 11th-seeded South Carolina, the season ends at 10-18.

MSU knocked off South Carolina for the second time in seven days. However, this contest remained in doubt much longer than the Lady Bulldogs' 67-48 win last Thursday in the Humphrey Coliseum.

"We dug a hole early but I was really pleased at how we fought back and found a way to win the game," MSU head coach Sharon Fanning said. "I thought we had to pick our energy level up early in the game. You have to pick up your effort defensively when your shots are not falling."

South Carolina actually scored the first 18 points of the contest. The Lady Bulldogs played more than 10 minutes before Chanel Mokango drained a 3-point basket to finally place MSU on the scoreboard. Once the opportunity to rally presented itself, the Lady Bulldogs were more than up to the challenge.

Behind outstanding defensive pressure, MSU pieced together a 19-2 run. This time, the Lady Gamecocks could not find an offensive answer. USC would also go more than 10 minutes with out a field goal. The Lady Bulldogs actually closed the run with a pair of Donnisha Tate free throws to cut the deficit to 20-19.

The Lady Gamecocks managed two field goals and two free throws over the final 1:51 of the half to take a 26-22 halftime lead.

A putback by Robin Porter gave MSU its first lead of the contest, at 29-28 with 17:30 remaining in the game.

Things then remained tight before the Lady Bulldogs finally pulled away in the game's final four minutes.

A 3-point basket by USC's Miranda Tate gave the Lady Gamecocks a 38-36 lead with 6:52 remaining. That would be the final made basket for USC in the contest.

The Lady Bulldogs took the lead for good on a putback by Mokango with 3:57 left. That shot broke a 38-38 tie. Mokango then did the honors on the defensive end, recording a pair of blocked shots on USC's next possession.

Alexis Rack then scored on three of MSU's next four possessions to put the contest away.

For the contest, the Lady Bulldogs hit 18 of 56 shots from the field (32.1 percent), 4 of 12 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 9 of 16 shots from the foul line (56.3 percent). The Lady Gamecocks hit 14 of 47 shots from the field (29.8 percent), 3 of 11 shots from 3-point range (27.3 percent) and 8 of 13 shots from the foul line (61.5 percent).

MSU held a 41-33 rebounding advantage. The Lady Bulldogs had eight assists and 20 turnovers, while the Lady Gamecocks had eight assists and 22 turnovers.

Rack paced MSU with 12 points, including 11 of her squad's 27 points in the game's final half. Tysheka Grimes had 11 points, while Mokango finished with 10 points. Mokango had a team-high 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.

USC received a team-high nine points from both Lakeisha Sutton and Jewel May.

In other first-round tournament play Thursday, No. 9 Ole Miss beat No. 8 Arkansas 65-60; No. 7 Georgia beat No. 10 Kentucky 82-64 and No. 5 Tennessee beat No. 12 Alabama 68-49.

All four quarterfinal matchups, including MSU-LSU, will be televised regionally by Fox Sports Net South.

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