Playing for the first time in nine days, the Lady Bulldogs (8-3) found themselves in an offensive shootout early. However, a traditionally-strong defensive unit, MSU found their poise on that end late to piece together the game-decisive stop.
The Bulls (5-6) did not score for right at seven minutes during the run. By the time Diamber Johnson completed the spree with a baseline jumper, the Lady Bulldogs had erased a one-point deficit and grabbed a 60-50 advantage.
Winners in five of their last six games, MSU will now face either Lehigh or Rider in Thursday's championship contest. That game will tip at 6:30 p.m. CT and also complete the Lady Bulldogs' non-conference schedule.
"It was a win and we showed a better effort in the second half than we did in the first," MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "I was disappointed in the effort for the entire ballgame. We have to play harder and stay focused. It all goes back to team chemistry. If we have it, we are going to be a good basketball team. If we don't, we are going to be a team like the one we saw in the first half."
The Lady Bulldogs hit a season-best 13 3-point baskets in the victory. That total included five treys made by Porsha Porter. Porter finished with a career-best 23 points, including a 8-for-13 night from the field. The MSU junior hit back-to-back 3s during the critical 11-0 run.
MSU scored the first four points of the contest. Buffalo battled back for a 7-6 lead on a 3-point basket by Nicki Hopkins. A layup by Katia May gave MSU a 10-7 lead. The Bulls then held a lead for a large stretch of the half - enjoying a five-point advantage on two different occasions.
An Ashley Brown putback capped an 8-2 run and placed the Lady Bulldogs on top, 23-22. The lead switched hands a couple of more times before Buffalo eased into halftime with a 38-36 advantage.
For the Maroon and White, Mary Kathryn Govero had 16 points at the intermission, including four 3-point baskets.
Buffalo again enjoyed five-point leads at 45-40 and 48-43. The Lady Bulldogs then flipped things on the defensive end. The Bulls only shot 27.6 percent from the floor in the game's final 20 minutes.
For the contest, the Lady Bulldogs hit 27 of 57 shots from the field (47.4 percent), 13 of 23 shots from 3-point range (56.5 percent) and 5 of 7 shots from the foul line (71.4 percent). The Bulls hit 23 of 60 shots from the field (38.3 percent), 4 of 13 shots from 3-point range (30.8 percent) and 8 of 12 shots from the foul line (66.7 percent).
MSU held a 39-34 rebounding advantage. MSU had 21 assists and 19 turnovers, while Buffalo had 12 assists and 18 turnovers.
Rector was also in double figures for MSU with 12 points. Brown finished with a team-high 10 rebounds, while Diamber Johnson had a career-high 10 assists with only three turnovers.
Kourtney Brown paced Buffalo with 26 points, while Ashley Zuber added 12 points.
After completing tournament competition, the Lady Bulldogs open Southeastern Conference play at Vanderbilt on Jan 6.