Mississippi State may have been on the NCAA bubble entering the Southeastern Conference tournament. Not anymore, says Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury.
Tyrone Washington scored 19 points, including six in a 12-2 run early in the second half, and State (20-11) upset No. 18 Tennessee 62-56 Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC tourney.
"There's no question that winning our 20th ball game - the bubble is busted for us," Stansbury said.
"We're making it easy on the (NCAA) selection committee by winning these first two games," he said.
Mississippi State beat Vanderbilt 76-58 in the opening round Thursday night and with the win over Tennessee boosted its chances of earning its first NCAA bid since 1996, when the Bulldogs won the SEC tournament and reached the Final Four.
"I think you know now that this team is one of the 64 best teams in the country," Stansbury said.
State also got 15 points from Detrick White in ending the SEC East champion Vols' winning streak at six and sending the Bulldogs into Saturday's semifinals against the winner of the No. 21 Florida-No. 22 Arkansas game later Friday at the Georgia Dome.
Tennessee (20-8) scored the first basket of the second half by Isiah Victor to take a 28-27 lead before the 6-foot-10 Washington took charge, capping the 12-2 surge with a 3-point play for a 39-30 led after 5:28 of the second half.
The Vols made one more push, getting to within a point at 53-52 on a 3-pointer by Vincent Yarbrough with 5:26 left. But Oral Roberts and Washington added baskets for a 57-52 lead with 4:28 and Tennessee got no closer than three the rest of the way.
The Vols' winning streak began after Mississippi State beat them 88-82 in Knoxville, ending their 16-game home winning streak.
Tennessee was hurt by the poor shooting of guards Tony Harris and Brndon Wharton, each averaging 13 points. They were a combined 6-of-30 from the field and 2-of-18 from 3-point range.
"When they're struggling, we're not a very good team," Tennessee coach Jerry Green said. "Tony has been shooting it well. He just wasn't very good today."
Harris was 2-of-16, 0-for-10 from beyond the stripe and scored only four points. Wharton was 4-of-14, 2-for-8 on 3-point attempts, and had 11 points. C.J. Black, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half, led the Vols. Victor added 11 points.
The Vols shot 29 percent (20-67) for the game.
| Mississippi State reached higher than Tennessee Friday. (AP)|
"This tournament is over for us and the regular season is over. Now we'll just move on (NCAAs) and see if we can play a little better," said Green.
Mississippi State fell behind 11-2 after seven minutes, making only one of its first 10 shots and turning the ball over six times. The Bulldogs took their only lead of the half at 27-26 on a pair of free throws by White with seven seconds left.
The Bulldogs shot only 25 percent (7-for-28) in the opening 20 minutes and White's 3-pointer was their only basket over the final 8:55, but Mississippi converted 10 of 12 free throws in that span.
© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved