TUPELO, Miss. – Craig Sword scored 20 points and ignited a decisive rally in the final eight minutes Friday as Mississippi State defeated Southeastern Louisiana 68-62.
The Bulldogs (6-2) snapped a 54-54 tie on a three-point play by Sword with 7:29 left and never trailed again. Sword accounted for 11 consecutive points in the crucial stretch run, hitting three baskets and assisting a Gavin Ware layup for a 63-58 lead with 3:15 left.
Antonnio Benton led SE Louisiana (3-6) with 26 points and eight rebounds.
The Lions pulled within 63-62 on a jumper by Devonte Upson with 2:01 left, but missed five consecutive shots in the final two minutes. SE Louisiana led 33-32 at halftime, but lost for the fourth consecutive game. The Lions finished 25 of 63, 39.7 percent from the field.
Mississippi State was 25 of 46, 54.3 percent, but struggled at the free throw line, managing 12 of 24.
The Bulldogs raced to a 12-2 lead in the opening eight minutes, limiting SE Louisiana to 2 of 10 from the field. The Bulldogs had opportunities to extend the lead, but managed only 4 of 11 from the free throw line.
SE Louisiana, with Benton accounting for 12 points, pulled into a 26-26 tie with 2:33 left on a 3-pointer by Joshua Filmore and took a 33-32 halftime lead after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Julian Chiera.
The Lions built their biggest lead 48-44 with 14:30 left as Benton completed three consecutive baskets.
After the Bulldogs' late rally, they added three free throws in the final 21 seconds to seal it.