ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Lamar Peters and his 24 points kept Mississippi State’s NCAA Tournament bubble from popping Thursday night at the SEC Tournament.
The sophomore point guard, one point shy of tying his career high, led the Bulldogs to an 80-77 win against LSU in the second round. He added 6 assists but turned it over 6 times. Mississippi State led for almost 39 minutes and survived as a late LSU heave was off line.
The Bulldogs, needing at least a deep run in St. Louis or perhaps a conference tournament crown to go dancing, will face Tennessee at 7 p.m. ET Friday in the quarterfinals.
“We still got life trying to get into the NCAA Tournament,” Peters said. “I like to stir the pot by me being a point guard, you know, just getting these guys going and just trying to be a leader like Coach [Ben Howland] want me to be. As I’m trying to lead, show those guys we should have good energy and keep playing hard because it’s not over yet.”
Mississippi’s State’s performance came against an LSU team that blew out the Bulldogs 78-57 in Baton Rouge, La. in the regular season finale.
But things changed Thursday — in many ways for Howland’s squad.
Mississippi State, ranked 336th nationally out of 351 teams in 3-point percentage coming into the game, drilled 10 of their 17 shots from behind the arc. The Bulldogs shot 9 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half.
Peters, following the out-of-character theme, is a 23 percent 3-point shooter who shot 5 of 7 (71 percent) from three against the Tigers.
“When you start knocking down open shots, you know, you feel like the goal get bigger,” Peters said. “When you get open, you just want to knock it down. I credit my teammates. Those guys kept getting me the ball. They saw that I had it going. Then we was fortunate that everybody get it going.”
Howland laughed when asked to explain the newfound hot shooting, but he swore he wasn’t surprised.
“The whole key is taking good shots,” Howland said. “The number one thing on offense, you’re taking good shots. If you look back at those threes, a lot of them were pretty open. Their strategy is to go under the ball screen and make you make shots. And so Lamar did that a couple times.”
Mississippi State (22-10, 9-9 SEC) is an upset away from its tournament resume being closely examined. The Bulldogs will face the 2nd-seeded Vols. Tennessee won the regular season matchup 76-54 on Feb. 27.
“We get to get those guys back, and we know they’re one of the best teams in the SEC,” Peters said. “They’re going to give us their best punch, and they’ve got a lot of special pieces.”
A Friday night fight is up next.
“We withstood a big punch tonight and get the chance to live for another day,” Howland said.
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