GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) _ Teaira McCowan had 27 points and 16 rebounds to lead No. 5 Mississippi State into the Southeastern Conference tournament finals for a fourth straight season with a 71-56 victory over Missouri on Saturday.
Anriel Howard finished with 19 points and 10 boards as the Bulldogs (29-2) pulled away in the final two quarters to beat the only SEC opponent they’ve lost to the past two regular seasons.
Mississippi State will face either No. 15 Texas A&M or 10th-seeded Arkansas for the SEC tournament title.
Sophie Cunningham scored a season-high 33 points for Missouri (23-10). She had five of the Tigers’ nine 3-pointers before fouling out.
When Missouri (23-10) cut a 16-point lead down to 43-38 off Cunningham’s 11 straight points late in the third quarter, SEC player of the year McCowan powered an 11-3 surge with eight points.
Mississippi State lost the previous three tournament finals, all to South Carolina. The four-time defending SEC tournament champion Gamecocks were beaten by Arkansas in Friday’s quarterfinals.
As they did in their quarterfinal win over Tennessee, the Bulldogs started slowly and with Cunningham scoring seven points for the Tigers, found themselves down 14-11. But as in the 83-68 win over the Lady Vols, the Bulldogs got it rolling in the second quarter.
McCowan was front and center in the charge with four baskets, all from close in. Howard did her thing from the outside, too, with a 3-pointer and another jumper to put Mississippi State up by 13.
McCowan accomplished her 26th game this season with double figure points and rebounds with 12 points and 10 boards by halftime.
When Missouri upset the Bulldogs last month _ Mississippi State’s only SEC regular-season loss the past two seasons _ it used its pressure to force Mississippi State into 24 turnovers. This time, the Bulldogs easily moved up and down the court and had just three miscues the first 20 minutes.
Missouri: The Tigers, led by three-time all-SEC first team selection Cunningham, will be a difficult out wherever they’re sent when NCAA women’s tournament selections are announced March 18. Cunningham was her team’s lone double-digit scorer. Missouri will need more production from the others if it hopes to stick around in the postseason.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs entered this week with a mission and have relentlessly moved forward toward their first-ever SEC tournament title. Howard, the Texas A&M grad transfer, has turned her game up another otch and seemed poised to take Mississippi State on a strong run through the NCAAs.
Missouri will await a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Mississippi State plays either No. 15 Texas A&M or Arkansas in the championship Sunday.