By Alan Robinson/The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — Alexis Rack and Chanel Mokango led a frantic rally as Mississippi State, down nine points to Middle Tennessee State and national scoring leader Alysha Clark with 4½ minutes remaining, surged back for a 68-64 victory in an NCAA Dayton regional first-round game Sunday.
The seventh-seeded Bulldogs (20-12) will meet second-seeded Ohio State (31-4) on Tuesday in a rematch of the Buckeyes’ 64-58 victory in Columbus in the second round last season. Ohio State beat St. Francis, Pa., 93-59 earlier Sunday.
Rack and Mokango teamed for all but six of Mississippi State’s 40 points in the second half as the Bulldogs came back from deficits of as many as 15 points in the first half and 10 points in the second half.
Rack scored 21 after missing all four of her shots in the first half and Mokango added 20 points.
Clark ended with 17 points — the first time she’s been held below 25 in her last 10 games — and got into foul trouble late in the first half, helping the Bulldogs get back into the game after they trailed 26-11. She fouled out with four seconds remaining as the Blue Raiders (25-6) went scoreless in the final 4:39.
The Blue Raiders, a Sun Belt Conference team on the verge of beating a BCS school, led at that point 64-55 on Anne Marie Lanning’s 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs had one more surge — and a decisive one — left in them.
Rack hit a 3-pointer ahead of Armelie Lumanu’s layup, making it 64-60, and Rack then scored on successive possessions to tie it. The Bulldogs gained their first lead at 66-64 on Armelie Lumanu’s jumper with 37 seconds remaining that followed Diamber Johnson’s steal. Lumanu added 12 points.
After Mississippi State benefited from a favorable non-call that ignored an apparent traveling violation, Lumanu sealed it by putting in two free throws after Clark fouled out.
Brandi Brown scored 14 and Chelsia Lymon, Jackie Pickel and Lanning had 11 each for the Blue Raiders, one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams.
The Blue Raiders, one-point losers to Michigan State in the first round last year, couldn’t have asked for a much better start as they opened leads of 13-5 and 26-11, only to have Clark draw her third foul with 4:10 remaining in the first half.
With Clark sitting out, the Lady Bulldogs immediately went on a half-ending 13-3 run to get to within 30-28 at halftime and climb back into a game the Raiders were beginning to dominate.
Clark came in averaging 28.7 points after scoring 132 points in three games in the Sun Belt tournament, finished off by a 48-point game against Arkansas-Little Rock.