The Bulldogs (28-2) turned a close game into a runaway with a 24-7 run over the final eight minutes of the second quarter. They’ll take on No. 13 Kentucky or Missouri in Saturday’s semifinals.
Howard, the Texas A&M graduate transfer, and the 6-foot-7 McCowan — the SEC player of the year — led the way.
Howard hits 11 of 15 shots, continually driving in for layups against the Lady Vols (19-12). McCowan was once more a force underneath and finished with her 25th double-double of the season.
Jazzmun Holmes had 16 points and five of Mississippi State’s nine steals in beating Tennessee for the sixth time in the past seven games.
Evina Westbrook had 19 points to lead the Lady Vols, who committed a season-high 26 turnovers.
“We played hard,” Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said. “We didn’t play smart at times.”
Still, the Bulldogs found themselves trailing 25-19 on Westbrook’s jumper with 8:31 to play in the second quarter. Mississippi State turned up the pressure and took control, outscoring the Lady Vols 24-7 the rest of the way.
Tennessee, which came in averaging 15.6 turnovers a game, had 15 in the first 20 minutes as Holmes and Howard pushed the pace and forced the Lady Vols’ guards into quick, sloppy decisions.
Bre’Amber Scott, a sophomore who’s averaged 11 minutes off the bench for Mississippi State, closed the run with a driving layup followed by a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left to send the Bulldogs into the break ahead 43-32.
Tennessee shot 53 percent in the opening quarter to take its lead. But once Mississippi State’s defense kicked in, that changed. The Lady Vols made just four of 14 field goal tries in the second quarter as they were outscored 26-9.
Tennessee: It’s cross-your-fingers time for the Lady Vols, who have played in all 37 NCAA women’s tournaments dating to 1982. Yet they went into the SEC tournament tightly clutching the bubble. The latest ESPN projections had Tennessee among the last four in. But much can change in the 10 days until the NCAA pairings are announced.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs won the past two SEC regular-season crowns, but have never won a league tournament. They’ve been runner up four times including the past three to South Carolina. Mississippi State took a strong first step in changing that history.