Eleventh-seeded MSU improves 13-16 and will meet third-seeded Vanderbilt in a 9 p.m. quarterfinal matchup Friday. That contest will be televised regionally by Fox Sports Net South. It is the third straight year MSU has won its first game in SEC Tournament play. The current MSU three-game win streak also matches the season’s longest.
Sixth-seeded Auburn lost for the second time this season to MSU and finishes 15-15.
Johnson did not score in the opening half but took matters into her own hands with 16 second-half points. MSU actually trailed 41-30 with 9:48 left in regulation. An 18-5 run followed. When Johnson rammed home a jumper at the 1:27 mark, MSU led for only the second time in the contest – at 48-46.
“Diamber really took over the ballgame in the second half,” MSU associate head coach Greg Franklin said. “Our guard play was not very good in the first half. However, in the second half, the guards really took over the ballgame. We were much more aggressive in the second half.”
The first half was not one for either team to remember. More than eight minutes into the contest, MSU led 2-1. The teams actually combined to miss 23 of the first 25 field goal attempts taken.
Auburn held an 8-4 lead with 8:23 left in the opening half. Both teams eventually found a little offensive rhythm; however, the Maroon and White could never grab another lead. Auburn scored seven of the final nine points of the half and eased into a 22-15 lead at the intermission.
The Lady Bulldogs shot 28 percent in the opening half and did not attempt a free throw.
“Honestly, the first half was not very good,” Franklin said, “However, we go into the locker room and we were only down seven points. We couldn’t find any offensive rhythm in the first half. We knew if we could get out in transition and get some shots to fall, we had a chance to come back.”
Auburn held their slight lead for the opening stages of the second half. However, MSU did show some signs of offensive life. Mary Kathryn Govero stroked a pair of 3-point baskets on back-to-back possessions. After MSU closed within two points, Auburn scored on three straight possessions to open a 35-27 advantage. A layup by Chantel Hilliard ran the AU lead to 39-28 with 10:31 left. The teams traded scores and AU still held an 11-point push at 41-30.
This time, the MSU rally took effect. Johnson drained a trey and after an Ashley Brown block on the defensive end, Danielle Rector drained another. Suddenly, the Lady Bulldogs were within striking distance at 41-36.
The MSU defense took over, fueling a 7-3 run, brining MSU within one at 44-43 on a Johnson layup with 4:17. The Pontotoc junior continued her mini-run by nailing a game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the key at the 2:54 mark.
Auburn missed five shots on the offensive end, before Johnson got the Lady Bulldogs over the hump, draining a jumper for a 48-46 lead with 1:27 left.
Defensively, the Maroon and White held Auburn to two field goals over the final 9:48. Catina Bett had the final of her four blocks in the closing seconds to preserve the victory.
For the contest, the Lady Bulldogs hit 18 of 50 shots from the field (36.0 percent), 6 of 20 shots from 3-point range (30.0 percent) and 7 of 10 shots from the foul line (70.0 percent). The Tigers hit 20 of 58 shots from the field (34.5 percent), 0 of 8 shots from 3-point range (0.0 percent) and 7 of 16 shots from the foul line (43.8 percent).
Auburn held a 40-35 rebounding advantage. The Lady Bulldogs had eight assists and 19 turnovers, while the Tigers had 11 assists and 15 turnovers. MSU was also credited with six blocked shots for the contest.
Behind Johnson’s 16 points, Govero followed with 15 points. Bett added 10 points. Brown had a team-high nine rebounds before fouling out in the closing minutes.
Auburn received a double-double from Hilliard, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Alli Smalley closed her brilliant AU career with 14 points.