NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The second-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs are back in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship for a third straight year.
This time, they want a championship to pair with their regular season title.
Victoria Vivians scored 22 points and second-ranked Mississippi State beat No. 15 Texas A&M 70-55 on Saturday the semifinals.
The Bulldogs (32-0) extended the nation’s longest active winning streak to 32 games to reach the title game for a third straight year. They will play No. 8 South Carolina, a 71-49 winner over 19th-ranked Georgia, on Sunday.
“We’ve been here before though,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “We know what it feels like to be here. We’d like to have it end a little differently, and that’s our challenge right now.”
Mississippi State reached the tournament championship game for the fourth time overall by beating Texas A&M for a second straight year. Yet the Bulldogs have never taken home the title, and Vivians said they will need to start better than they have through two games at this tournament.
“We cannot let them punch first,” Vivians said of whoever they play next. “And we have to play great defense and play our game.”
Teaira McCowan matched her season-low with only six points for the Bulldogs, but she grabbed 13 rebounds. Morgan William added 15 points, and Roshunda Johnson had 13.
“It’s not what she scores, it’s her presence in that lane,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said of McCowan. “That’s a big aircraft carrier in there that does a good job for them to allow them to play their four-guard offense.”
Playing its third game in as many days, Texas A&M (24-9) snapped a four-game winning streak with the Aggies’ first loss since Mississippi State beat them Feb. 18 in Starkville.
Chennedy Carter, the SEC freshman of the year, led the Aggies with 27 points. Anriel Howard grabbed 17 rebounds but was held to four points on 2 of 9 shooting guarded by Vivians.
Texas A&M dominated on the boards early with Carter scoring nine points in giving the Aggies an 18-15 lead after the first quarter.
“They weathered the storm just like they did (Friday) against Kentucky,” Blair said of the Bulldogs. ” They weathered the storm and then saw what was going to work.”
Mississippi State pounced in the second quarter with a 16-4 run going into halftime. They forced five turnovers, the worst when Carter let the ball roll at midcourt with Morgan William racing by to pick it up for an easy layup. The Aggies missed nine of 10 shots before Danni Williams’ jumper just before the buzzer to trim Mississippi State’s lead to 36-28.
Carter hit a 3 with 7:21 left in the third to pull the Aggies within 38-33. That’s when Vivians took over and knocked down three straight 3-pointers, and Johnson added a 3 to finish off a 12-2 run giving Mississippi State its biggest lead at 50-35 with 4:25 left.
The Bulldogs led by as much as 19 in the fourth quarter.
Texas A&M: The Aggies haven’t upset a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2 since April 3, 2011, with a win against Stanford at the Final Four. … They did manage to outrebound the Bulldogs 43-32 but wound up outscored in the paint 30-24.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are the SEC’s first team since Tennessee in 1997-98 to finish the regular season undefeated and now are just a win from matching that team in adding a tournament title heading into the NCAA Tournament. … The SEC’s best outside the arc, they put away the Aggies in the third by hitting 4 of 7 from 3. … They also had only five turnovers.
Texas A&M: Waiting for NCAA Tournament bracket announcement.
Mississippi State: SEC Tournament championship for a third straight year.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker