No. 25 Mississippi St. 86, Georgia 68
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A quick start boosted No. 25 Mississippi State to its first Southeastern Conference tournament championship game berth since 1933.
Mississippi State (21-9) scored the first seven points against Georgia in a semifinal game Saturday, and 11 of their 19 first-half field goals were layups or dunks. State never trailed in the 86-68 victory.
``In the first half, our defensive effort was very good and set the tone. It allowed us to get some easy baskets by creating turnovers,″ State coach Richard Williams said. ``We attacked their press well and shot the ball well because we got so many easy shots.″
Darryl Wilson had 21 points to lead four players in double figures for Mississippi State, which played in the championship game of the first-ever SEC tournament in 1933, losing to Kentucky. The same teams will play on Sunday in the Superdome.
``There are not many of us who follow Mississippi State basketball that remember that first one,″ Williams said.
No. 1 Kentucky (28-1), which beat Arkansas 95-75 in its semifinal game Saturday, has won the tournament four straight years. The Wildcats, winners of 27 straight games this season, have won 26 in a row against SEC teams since a 76-71 home loss to Mississippi State on Feb. 14, 1995.
Georgia (19-9) won eight of its last 10 games under first-year coach Tubby Smith, who took Tulsa to the NCAA tournament round of 16 the last two years. Smith will have to wait until Sunday to find out if Georgia is going to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991.
Mississippi State took its biggest lead on consecutive baskets by Erick Dampier. After his one-handed slam off an inbounds pass, he had a short turnaround baseline jumper that made it 60-32 with 15:10 left.
Dontae’ Jones, who missed State’s regular season win over Georgia when questions were raised about his junior college transcript, had 20 points. Dampier had 17 points and Marcus Bullard had 12.
Katu Davis led Georgia with 26 points. Carlos Strong added 12.
``We had a stretch in the first half where we lost our focus, and couldn’t get back into the game,″ Smith said. ``It was a bit surprising because we’ve been playing so well. It might have been the worse stretch we played all year.″
Mississippi State hit eight of its first nine shots. It finished 32-of-53 (60 percent).
``They made great passes, were unselfish and got easy baskets,″ Georgia forward Carlos Strong said.
Georgia cut State’s lead to three points when Davis hit a 3-pointer with 8:19 left to make it 27-24. But after Pertha Robinson’s 3-pointer with 6:50 left made it 31-27, Georgia didn’t score again in the first half.
Bullard scored seven points as Mississippi State closed the first half with 14 straight to lead 46-27 at the break.
Georgia had never lost to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament winning, all three previous tournament games by double digits.
Before winning two games in this year’s tournament, Mississippi State was 1-9 in the event under Williams, who is in his 10th season. The Bulldogs had won more games in last year’s NCAA, winning two to advance to the round of 16.
``What we were trying to do (in this SEC tournament) was, No. 1, win the tournament and, No. 2, improve our seeding for the NCAA seeding. I think we have certainly accomplished that,″ Williams said.