Rack scores 30 as Lady Bulldogs reach Sweet 16 for first time

PITTSBURGH -- They remembered how it felt to lose the lead, and their season, to Ohio State in the final few minutes. Oh, did the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs remember.

When Ohio State popped up on their bracket again, they knew they'd get the second chance that many NCAA tournament losers don't. They were determined not to waste it, either.

Alexis Rack drove through and around Ohio State's slow-to-react defense for 30 points and seventh-seeded Mississippi State upset the second-seeded Buckeyes 87-67 on Tuesday night to reach the NCAA women's tournament round of 16 for the first time.

The Lady Bulldogs trailed by as many as eight points in the first half, only to use their quickness, adept ball movement and outside shooting to seize control with an 18-0 run that turned a 32-26 deficit into a 44-32 lead. They never looked back in avenging a second-round loss to the Buckeyes (31-5) a season ago.

Mississippi State (21-12) plays Florida State (28-5) on Sunday in Dayton.

"Stay humble -- and stay hungry," Lady Bulldogs coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said, referring to her postgame message to her excited players. "We want to finish this."

This time, the Lady Bulldogs finished the job against Ohio State, which scored the final 10 points last year while holding Mississippi State scoreless for the final 6:43 in Columbus to win 64-58 in the second round.

"We were excited to get an opportunity to play them again," said Mary Kathryn Govero, the only junior among four Mississippi State senior starters. "We believed in ourselves from the beginning."

Ohio State star Janel Lavender, harassed all night by Chanel Mokango, scored 17 points -- many after it was far too late. The 6-foot-4 Lavender repeatedly had trouble posting up as the 6-5 Mokango used her long reach and quickness to deny passes or, when Lavender handled the ball, to pressure her into taking hurried or off-balance shots.

"We got outworked," Lavender said. "They played like they wanted to advance. They fronted me and denied me the ball -- all around, we got outworked."

Mokango scored 19 points herself, Armelie Lumanu added 17 and Govero scored 15 by making 5 of 6 from 3-point range. The Lady Bulldogs were 12 of 22 from beyond the arc to 10 of 15 for Ohio State, the nation's best 3-point shooting team, and scored 37 points off the Buckeyes' 24 turnovers. Mississippi State made 55.7 percent of its shots (34 of 61) to Ohio State's 46.3 percent (25 of 54).

"We were more hungry than they were," Rack said. "They went on their run early but when we went out, we never looked back."

The Buckeyes' fast-growing frustration showed when team leader Samantha Prahalis tore at her shorts in anger after fouling out by drawing a technical with 4:22 remaining, taking any chances of a desperation comeback with her. The 20-point loss was Ohio State's worst in the tournament since a 97-65 loss to Tennessee in 1996.

"The Rack kid had a great game, they got some momentum and I think we went through a blip ... in the later parts of the second half we, between the ears, really lost it," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said.

Ohio State became the second No. 2-seeded team to lose in as many nights, joining Texas A&M. It's only the third time since the women's bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1994 that a pair of 2-seeds lost in the first two rounds of the tournament, the other seasons being 2002 and 2007.

After Prahalis' 3-pointer with 5:18 left in the half, Ohio State didn't score again before halftime until Lavender's layup with 26 seconds remaining. She came in averaging 21.5 points.

The Buckeyes, who never got their fast-break offense going in the final 30 minutes, looked confused and unable to react when the Lady Bulldogs began hitting from beyond the arc or Rack sliced through their defense. Once, the right-handed Rack adeptly scooped the ball into the basket left-handed when she had no other option on the play.

"Once I get hot, the ball goes in like it does tonight," said Rack, who averages 17.6 points.

Mokango's defensive pressure also was a key as the Lady Bulldogs came from 15 points down to beat Middle Tennessee State 68-64 on Sunday, holding Division I scoring leader Alysha Clark to 17 points. Mississippi State needed a game-ending 13-0 run to win.