Driving to the basket in the final minute, Cunningham found Cierra Porter for a wide open 3-pointer with 41 seconds left to seal Missouri's 75-67 upset victory over No. 5 Mississippi State on Thursday night.
Porter hadn't scored all night until the big 3-pointer. Cunningham didn't hesitate. "I know what she can do, and she can knock down big shots when we need them," Cunningham said. "When she's wide open, I'm going to give her the ball every time."
Cunningham led the Tigers with 24 points, and Amber Smith added 16. Missouri snapped a four-game road losing streak. Cunningham had her usual stellar performance — shooting 4 of 9 from 3-point range — despite battling an illness over the last 24 hours. She missed the pregame practice and slept during the afternoon before tipoff.
"I was up all last night," Cunningham said. "Had to get a couple IVs this morning. Woke up at 4:45 p.m. and didn't go to shootaround. But our team believed in me and I knew I was going to play no matter what. I'm not the type of person to sit out. I'm just proud of our team."
Missouri (19-7, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) trailed for much of the night, but pulled ahead 55-54 on Akira Levy's layup at the third-quarter buzzer. The Tigers pushed their advantage 60-56 early in the fourth quarter and never trailed again, fending off multiple Mississippi State rallies.
Porter's 3-pointer after Cunningham's pass made it 70-64 and ended any drama. Missouri shot 55 percent from the field and made 11 3-pointers. Mississippi State (22-2, 10-1) had its 12-game winning streak snapped. The Bulldogs also had won 26 straight regular-season SEC games dating to last season.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said he was disappointed in his team's effort, but said Missouri's performance was "special tonight" and the Tigers deserved to win. "They are one tough bunch," Schaefer said. "That's my kind of team. Tough, physical, aggressive."
Anriel Howard led the Bulldogs with 21 points. Teaira McCowan added 12 points and 13 rebounds. Mississippi State was hurt by 18 turnovers, including a combined 10 from starting guards Jazzmun Holmes and Jordan Danberry.
"We'll practice tomorrow," Schaefer said. "That's all I can tell you." Mississippi State needed Andra Espinoza-Hunter's midrange jumper at the buzzer to take a 35-34 halftime lead. Howard led the Bulldogs with 11 points before the break. Cunningham had 13.
2,000 POINTS Missouri's Cunningham passed 2,000 points for her career with a 3-pointer during the second quarter. The 6-foot-1 guard has been a consistent scorer throughout her career, scoring 448 points as a freshman, 541 as a sophomore and 574 as a junior. She already has 452 points this season.
BIG PICTURE Missouri: It's a huge win for the Tigers, who had lost their previous four road games. Cunningham was excellent as usual and she got a lot of help from her teammates. The Tigers now have a 2-7 record against Mississippi State after shooting nearly 63 percent in the second half.
Cunningham feels the Tigers can make a run up the SEC standings in the final few weeks. Missouri hadn't won on the road since beating Tennessee on Jan. 6. "Our train is moving," Cunningham said during her postgame television interview. "We've had a rocky up-and-down season so far, but we had long talks in the locker room after LSU. We were there till like 2:30 in the morning and this train's moving. We're fixing ourselves. We're fixing our body language and we're not letting anybody stop us."
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had a tough night on both ends of the floor, but especially on defense. The Tigers got a lot of open looks from 3-point range and made a bunch of them. Mississippi State has another tough game on Sunday against Texas A&M.
UP NEXT Missouri: Hosts Tennessee on Sunday. Mississippi State: At No. 22 Texas A&M on Sunday.
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