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 firstname.lastname@example.org