Mississippi State drops Tigers in first round of SEC Tournament

Missouri awaits word on postseason fate.

Now Missouri waits.

In a game marked by lead changes and foul trouble, the No. 12 seed Tigers (17-13, 6-11 Southeastern Conference) fell to No. 13 seed Mississippi State (19-12, 5-11 SEC), 73-70, Wednesday in the first round of the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Duluth, Ga.

The lead changed eight times in the first half.

Senior first team all-conference forward Bri Kulas led the way for Missouri with 12 points and five rebounds in the first half. She finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, her sixth double-double of the season.

But the Bulldogs’ first team all-SEC performer, center Martha Alwal, matched Kulas with 11 points and four rebounds in the first half as Mississippi State went into halftime with a 38-34 lead.

Foul trouble hurt the Tigers in the second half. Kulas picked up her fourth foul of the game just over five minutes into the second, and sophomore guard Lianna Doty picked up three fouls in the second half on her way to fouling out with over five minutes remaining.

“(We) obviously got into foul trouble,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “That hurt us having some key players on the bench.”

Freshman guard Sierra Michaelis picked up the slack for Missouri with her teammates banished with fouls. She had 14 of her 16 points in the second half and finished the game shooting 4-of-5 from three.

As a team, Mizzou shot efficiently. The Tigers were 11-of-23 from three and shot just over 46 percent from the field.

But Missouri had 18 turnovers, off of which the Bulldogs scored 26 points.

The Tigers were down just one with 53 seconds to go after a Michaelis layup. Two free throws by Jerica James then pushed the Bulldog lead to 73-70, and a three by sophomore guard Maddie Stock fell short to end the game.

“Definitely not the way I wanted to go out,” Kulas said of the loss. “But I love my teammates and my coaches — just got to keep moving forward.”

Mizzou will now wait to hear its postseason fate. Having finished second-from-last in the SEC during the regular season and holding the 95th RPI in the country as of March 3, it is unlikely Mizzou will earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

A postseason berth of some kind is still attainable though.

Missouri, with a 7-10 regular season conference record, has a nearly identical record to last year’s team. Those Tigers were 17-13 in the regular season with a 6-10 SEC record before losing in the first round of the conference tournament to Vanderbilt. Missouri went on to host an opening round WNIT game against Eastern Illinois.

The WNIT field will be announced March 17.

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