NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt began its postseason with a bang on Friday at Bridgestone Arena with a convincing 69-55 victory over 11th-seeded Mississippi State in the SEC quarterfinals.
The win ended any chance of Mississippi State (13-17) making a Cinderella run through the tournament after upsetting sixth-seeded Auburn on Thursday, and advanced the third-seeded Commodores (20-10) to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament for the fifth straight year. Vanderbilt will play Kentucky at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the second semifinal game of the day.
Vanderbilt was led by Tiffany Clarke who scored all 23 of her points in the second half after being limited to just five minutes in the first half due to two early fouls. Clarke scored 14 of the team’s final 15 points and also collected nine rebounds.
The Commodores led by seven at the half and took command of the game with a 13-5 run early in the second half. Vanderbilt would extend its lead to as many as 18 points with 5:55 to play.
“On offense, I thought we did a much better job in the second half getting the ball to Tiffany (Clarke) and Hannah (Tuomi) down low and we were able to take high percentage shots,” Head Coach Melanie Balcomb said. “I think that was really important, us getting our shot selection. We played a good second half. We played smart and played well on both ends of the floor.”
Vanderbilt has now advanced to the semifinals in eight of nine seasons under Head Coach Melanie Balcomb and has won at least one game in the SEC Tournament each of the last 12 seasons.
The Commodores have now won at least 20 games each of the last 12 seasons.
Vanderbilt built a seven-point lead at the half after shooting 50 percent from the floor. Mississippi cut Vanderbilt’s lead to five with the first bucket of the second half, but wouldn’t get any closer.
With Vanderbilt leading 55-42, Clarke scored 10 straight points for the Commodores as Vanderbilt built an 18-point lead, 64-46, with 5:23 to play.
Despite Mississippi State starting just 3-of-16 from the field, Vanderbilt only led 11-9 with 11:26 to play in the first half. However, back-to-back three-pointers by Angela Puleo gave Vanderbilt a five-point lead, 17-9 lead with 9:10 to play in the first half. Vanderbilt would lead by as many as nine points on two occasions before Mississippi State scored seven straight points to pull within two 24-22 with 3:21 to play.
Angela Puleo’s third three-pointer of the half gave Vanderbilt a five-point cushion, 27-22, with 3:00 to play. After a bucket by Mississippi State, Vanderbilt would score the final six points of the half to take a 33-24 lead into the locker room.
Also scoring in double figures were Puleo with 11 and Hannah Tuomi with 10. The Commodores shot 52.2% from the floor, while limiting Mississippi State to just 30.7% shooting.
Vanderbilt will now face second-seeded Kentucky in the SEC Semifinals Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena. Vanderbilt is 0-2 this season against the Wildcats.