The victory ran the Lady Vols record to 21-0 against Mississippi State, while extending their winning streak to 20 straight this season and their SEC win streak to 16 straight, dating back to an 81-80 loss to LSU in the 2002 SEC semifinal.
Tennessee will square off with the Lady Tigers again on Sunday for the SEC Tournament title. No. 5 LSU defeated Vanderbilt 78-69 in Saturday's other semifinal contest, setting up Sunday's 3:00 p.m. cst championship battle.
For much of the game against Mississippi State it looked like the Lady Vols would bow out early again. The Lady Bulldogs led most of the first half and built their advantage to 42-33 at the break when Doceide Warren let fly a 55-foot shot that banked in at the buzzer.
MSU would built their lead to 11 early in the second half before Tennessee mounted a comeback behind the red hot Lawson who hit three 3-pointers to ignite a 20-5 run, including a trey as the shot clock expired to put the Lady Vols up 53-49.
But the Lady Bulldogs refused to go away and would storm back to regain the lead behind the inspired play of LaToya Thomas, who scored a game-high 34 points to keep it close down the stretch. Even after Tennessee went up 72-66 on baskets by Lawson and Shyra Ely, MSU countered with a 7-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by Tan White for a 73-72 lead with 2:03 remaining.
Tasha Butts hit a pair of free throws to put Tennessee back in front 74-73 with 1:25 left. However, White knocked down another jumper to put the Lady Bulldogs ahead 75-74 and appeared ready to ice the game when Warren went to the foul line with a one-plus-one opportunity and only 22.8 seconds remaining. Up to that point, MSU was 13-of-14 on its free throw attempts, but Warren, who was 2-of-2, missed the front end and Tennessee got the rebound.
After a time out, the Lady Vols cleared the floor to allow Lawson to work for the last shot. She drove the lane, appeared to get bump as she leaned right and released the game-winning shot. Mississippi State failed to get a shot off as the Tennessee bench spilled onto the floor in a spontaneous celebration.
Ely came off the bench to score 12 points and pull down a game-high 11 rebounds for Tennessee. No other Lady Vol netted double figures as leading scorer Gwen Jackson had an off night, scoring just seven points.
White finished the game with 21 points and Warren added 11 for the Lady Bulldogs who hit 47.5 percent from the field (28-of-59). Tennessee shot only 39 percent (26-of-67) led by Lawson who connected on 12-of-22 field goal attempts, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range.