COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri got a jump on Mississippi State for its first victory over a ranked opponent this season.
Sophie Cunningham scored 18 of her 22 points in the final 15 minutes and No. 24 Missouri rode a big early lead to a 66-54 victory over No. 7 Mississippi State on Thursday night.
Missouri (15-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) scored on 11 of 14 first-quarter possessions to take a 23-11 lead. The Tigers made 10 of 15 field-goal attempts in the first quarter, and three of those misses were collected for offensive rebounds and turned into second-chance points.
"Our mentality at the very beginning of the game was supreme confidence, and that's how we took the court," said Jordan Frericks, who added 10 points and 10 rebounds for Missouri.
Victoria Vivians led Mississippi State (16-2, 3-1) with 19 points. The Bulldogs had won 11 straight.
"That was pretty much a good old-fashion getting taken to the woods for a woodshed whipping," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said.
Mississippi State is the highest-ranked opponent Missouri has beaten since it upset then-No. 4 Baylor on Jan. 4, 2006.
The Bulldogs grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, but that wasn't enough to offset their 27.6-percent shooting from the field.
"That's sometimes life on the road," Schaefer said. "We obviously didn't shoot it well, didn't play very well, and you got to give them all the credit for causing that."
Missouri's hot start was a stark contrast compared to its two other games this season against ranked opponents. The Tigers trailed Tennessee 24-11 less than 10 minutes into a 71-55 loss on Jan. 4 and trailed South Carolina 25-10 just more than 13 minutes into Sunday's 83-58 loss.
Thursday's result could prove to be a key one for a Missouri team seeking its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
"We all agree one win against a Top 10 team isn't going to define our season," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said, "but certainly when you look at the big picture of selection show Monday and what people are looking for and how they match you up against other teams, you got to have that win. You got to have that win against a ranked opponent."
Cunningham, a freshman guard, entered the game as Missouri's leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, but she had been held to single digits in each of her first three SEC games.
Foul trouble limited her to seven minutes in the first half against Mississippi State, but she took control after halftime. During one stretch in the second half, 16 of Missouri's 20 points came from Cunningham, as the Tigers edged away after the Bulldogs started the second half strong.
"It was just me actually executing, me staying focused," Cunningham said. "Those first (three) games in the SEC, those were some tough, tough games, but I'm also a freshman, so I have to learn from my mistakes."
The Tigers had their largest lead at 33-13 after Frericks' put-back with 4:59 remaining in the second quarter, causing Schaefer to call a timeout. The Bulldogs closed the half on a 12-3 run. They trimmed their deficit to 38-31 on Teaira McCowan's basket with 7:11 left in the third quarter. The Bulldogs never got any closer.
Mississippi State: Vivians reached double figures scoring for the 17th straight game, but she was 6 for 18 from the field. She entered Thursday leading the SEC in scoring at 17.9 points per game. The Bulldogs entered Thursday ranked 13th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 52.2 points per game. Missouri became Mississippi State's seventh opponent this season to score at least 60 points.
Missouri: Three of the Tigers' first four SEC games have come against ranked opponents. Missouri beat Mississippi State for the first time in five tries.
No. 7 Mississippi State hosts Mississippi on Monday.
No. 24 Missouri visits Arkansas on Sunday.
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