LSU's Marcus Thornton (5) shoots between Mississippi State defenders Twany Beckham (4) and Brian Johnson (44) during their game at the Southeastern Conference men's tournament Saturday, March 14, 2009, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Mississippi State upset regular-season champion LSU, 67-57, in a Saturday afternoon Southeastern Conference tournament semifinal game at St. Pete Times Forum.
The Western Division No. 3 seed Bulldogs advanced to Sunday’s 1 p.m. championship game, where they’ll play either East No. 1 seed Tennessee of West No. 2 seed Auburn.
Mississippi State broke open a five-point game with a quick burst in the final minutes. Four free throws from junior guard Barry Stewart — two via personal foul, and two via technical foul — capped a 12-1 run that gave the Bulldogs a 63-47 lead with 2 minutes, 36 seconds left.
LSU (26-7) is still a virtual lock for the NCAA tournament, but the Bulldogs (22-12) might still need a victory tomorrow to secure the league’s only automatic berth.
Tennessee natives Jarvis Varnado and Stewart led the Mississippi State with 19 and 16 points. Varnado, a senior center from Brownsville, added seven rebounds and seven blocked shots. Stewart, a junior guard from Shelbyville, was 10-for-12 from the free-throw line.
Seniors Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton led LSU with 15 and 14 points.
Mississippi State led 31-29 at halftime and quickly extended that advantage to 34-29 before LSU re-took command with a 6-0 spurt.
State responded with a 13-4 run, though, taking a 47-39 lead and forcing Tigers coach Trent Johnson to call a timeout with 11:18 left.
Read www.timesfreepress.com throughout the day and Sunday’s print edition for more coverage, and e-mail Wes Rucker at email@example.com