Bulldogs Advance To SEC Tourney Championship

Jarvis Varnado records 19 points and 7 blocks

TAMPA, Fla. - Mississippi State advanced to the Southeastern Conference Men's Basketball Tournament championship game with a stunning 67-57 victory over 20th-ranked LSU in the St. Pete Times Forum Saturday afternoon.

The Bulldogs will face either Tennessee or Auburn in a noon CT start Sunday for the tournament championship. That contest will be televised nationally by CBS. The winner receives an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.

MSU will be playing in the SEC Tournament championship game for the fourth time in school history. The Bulldogs last played in the finals in 2003 and last won the tournament in 2002. On Saturday, this MSU squad became the first Bulldog squad to advance to the finals from the first round - having to win three straight tournament games to accomplish that feat.

With the victory, MSU improves to 22-12, while LSU completes league tournament play at 26-7.

Jarvis Varnado led the MSU attack with 19 points and seven blocked shots. Phil Turner had another monster night on the glass, claiming 11 rebounds. The Bulldogs had an atypical day from 3-point range, only hitting three. MSU also shook off early free throw struggles.

Defense and rebounding proved enough to offset those numbers as MSU knocked off LSU for the first time in three tries this season.

The Bulldogs took this contest over midway through the second half. A contest full of strong, physical defensive play swung when the Bulldogs put together a 15-6 run. Ironically, the Bulldogs built the lead thanks in part to strong minutes from reserves Brian Johnson, Riley Benock, Kodi Augustus, Twanny Beckham and Romero Osby.

For the first time in tournament competition, the Bulldogs actually started strong. MSU scored the game's first five points and a Barry Stewart 3-point basket ran the advantage to 11-5. LSU eventually found some momentum and grabbed its first advantage at 19-18 on a Marcus Thornton putback.

The lead then switched hands seven more times in the opening half, before the Bulldogs claimed a 31-29 lead at the intermission.

A 3-point play by Phil Turner allowed the Bulldogs to open a 34-29 advantage on the first possession of the second half. LSU then battled back for its last lead on a Tasmin Mitchell tipin, at 35-34 with 17:31 remaining.

MSU then responded with its best stretch of the contest. The 15-6 run was highlighted by a Varnado block, Varnado dunk, Turner 3-pointer and Beckham jumper off the glass in the lane.

After building the 49-41 lead, the Tigers scored the next four points but got no closer the remainder of the way. MSU closed out the contest with a 10-0 run to open a 63-47 advantage in the final minutes.

For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 20 of 60 shots from the field (33.3 percent), 3 of 16 shots from 3-point range (18.8 percent) and 24 of 35 shots from the foul line (68.6 percent). The Tigers hit 22 of 71 shots from the field (31.0 percent), 4 of 16 shots from 3-point range (25.0 percent) and 9 of 13 shots from the foul line (69.2 percent).

LSU held a 49-48 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 11 assists and six turnovers, while the Tigers had 12 assists and seven turnovers.

With Varnado's seven blocks, the MSU junior set another conference and school single season record with 159 blocks, two better than his 157 blocks from last season.

Stewart was also in double figures for MSU with 17 points. Mitchell paced LSU with 15 points, while Marcus Thornton scored 14 points. Quintin Thornton had a team-high 10 rebounds.

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