GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Rickea Jackson scored 19 of her 23 points in the second half and No. 9 Mississippi State pulled away to beat LSU 79-49 in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals Friday night.
The defending conference champion Bulldogs (26-5) looked as if they might not last too long this time around, getting outhustled, missing shots and trailing the Tigers (20-10) 23-16 midway through the second quarter.
But Mississippi State closed the period with an exclamation point -- Andra Espinoza-Hunter's 35-footer at the buzzer falling through to give her team a 26-25 lead going into halftime.
The Bulldogs, led by their stellar freshman Jackson and senior Jordan Danberry, kept up the surge and outscored LSU 53-24 in the final 20 minutes.
Danberry had 18 points, 12 coming the last two quarters.
Mississippi State will play No. 16 Kentucky or Tennessee on Saturday for a spot in the tournament final.
Jackson, the 6-foot-2 forward averaging 14.5 points coming in, also finished with 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
Mississippi State finally broke through to win the SEC tournament title a year ago after losing the previous three championship finals to South Carolina.
But the Bulldogs didn't start with the same fire it showed throughout a year ago as LSU took the fight to them much of the opening half.
The Tigers were ahead 23-16 after Awa Trasi's 3-pointer with 5:15 left before the break.
But after a timeout, the Bulldogs dug in and found their defense as they limited LSU to 1-of-5 shooting and forced two turnovers the rest of the period.
They got a big-time boost by Espinoza-Hunter's long-distance shot as time ran out. Her teammates rushed the junior to celebrate. After a brief official review as both teams left the court, the basket was ruled good to give Mississippi State a lead it would not surrender.
Khayla Pointer had 12 points to lead LSU, which has not advanced to the semifinals here since 2015.
THE BIG PICTURE
LSU: The Tigers crossed a threshhold in Thursday's second-round win over Florida, earning that 20th victory on the season that should remove any remaining doubt about LSU getting into the NCAA Tournament.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs needed a jolt to get them started and Espinoza-Hunter's three did the trick this time. Mississippi State might not have the luxury of waiting on such moments going forward here and in the NCAAs to come. The Bulldogs will need to be sharper earlier if they hope to last when the competition toughens.
LSU awaits a likely berth in the NCAA Tournament
Mississippi State will play in Saturday's semifinals.