KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's Shyra Ely proved she belonged in the starting lineup on senior night.
Ely had 27 points and 12 rebounds and fifth-ranked Tennessee beat Mississippi State 78-56 on Thursday night.
Ely scored 16 points in the second half to help the Lady Vols (22-4, 12-1 Southeastern Conference) improve to 24-0 against the Lady Bulldogs.
Coach Pat Summitt put her team's leading scorer on the bench in the previous three games after she began to struggle. Ely scored a season-high 30 points on Sunday at Arkansas.
``I think she was trying to tell me she needed to start. What do y'all think?'' Summitt said. ``It was important for her to understand I don't care if the ball is not going in the basket. There are so many other things Shyra brings to our team.''
Defense and rebounding are among them, and scoring also helps.
Tennessee was leading by 11 with 17:10 left when Mississippi State (16-10, 5-8) started a 10-2 run to cut it to 43-40. Tye'sha Fluker and Ely scored inside to push the lead back to seven, and the teams traded baskets for a few minutes.
Mississippi State drew to five with 10:49 left, but the Lady Vols sealed the win with a 16-2 run over the next 6 minutes that included five points by Ely.
Fluker added 13 points, Shanna Zolman had 12 and Nicky Anosike grabbed 10 rebounds for Tennessee.
The Lady Vols shared their senior night festivities with Mississippi State's four seniors. Summitt presented each one with a flower bouquet before her seniors were introduced.
Then Lady Vols officials stopped the game after Mississippi State senior Tan White became the SEC's all-time leader in steals in the first half and retrieved the ball from the referee. She surpassed Jocelyn Penn with her 360th, and had four steals in the game to push her career total to 361.
``I'm glad she's a senior,'' Summitt said about White. ``She may be the best guard in the country.''
White, the nation's second-leading scorer, led the Lady Bulldogs with 19 points. She received a standing ovation from the partisan Tennessee crowd.
``It was just amazing,'' White said. ``To have an audience support both sides is very special.''
Ely often guarded her and was serious about trying to limit easy shots.
``I didn't want to be on SportsCenter tonight. She's such a great player,'' Ely said. ``You have to know she's going to get her buckets, but to make her work for everything was important.''
Tennessee has won 61 straight SEC games at home, although Mississippi State looked like it could end the streak before Tennessee's final run put it out of reach. The Lady Vols had the rebounding edge, 44-27, and got 23 points off putbacks.
``I don't think I've gone into a press conference versus a Tennessee team where offensive boards weren't a factor. That's the way they've won a lot of games,'' Lady Bulldogs coach Sharon Fanning said.
The Lady Vols led all but 1 minute of the first half and was ahead by as many as nine. Mississippi State cut the lead to one point three times, the last with 5:03 remaining before halftime. The Lady Vols then finished the half with a 6-0 run.
Tennessee went 17-of-23 from the foul line and Mississippi State was 8-of-9.
Summitt needs six more victories to break Dean Smith's NCAA all-time win record (879).