Hot-Shooting MSU Holds Off Auburn's Upset Bid

The Tigers almost picked up their first SEC road victory of the season vs. nationally-ranked Mississippi State in a high-scoring contest in Starkville.

Starkville, Miss.--Auburn's upset bid against 19th-ranked Mississippi State came up short on Saturday as the hot-shooting Bulldogs held on for an 91-88 SEC basketball victory despite a career-high 24 points from sophomore guard Varez Ward.

Auburn fell to 13-10 overall and 3-6 in the league despite its season-high point total, which matched the most points scored by a Tony Barbee coached Auburn team equaling the total in an overtime win over Georgia Southern last season.

Auburn's previous high points total in an SEC game this year was 69 in a victory over Ole Miss, but it took two overtimes to reach that figure. In an SEC game without overtime this season the most points the Tigers had scored was 63 vs. South Carolina.

Prior to Saturday's game at Humphrey Coliseum vs. the Bulldogs, the most points the Tigers had scored under Barbee in an SEC game was 79 last season in a win at South Carolina.

Mississippi State improved its record to 18-5 overall and 5-3 in the SEC.

The visiting Tigers played the entire game with just three turnovers and had a solid day shooting the basketball, but couldn't overcome the home team that made an impressive 12-19 three-pointers and hit 60.4 percent overall from the field.

The shooting percentage was a season-high for the Bulldogs, who won for a 12th consecutive time at home.

The Bulldogs also got to the foul line 35 times although they didn't always take advantage of the opportunities with 14 misses. Mississippi State actually shot better from three-point range connecting on 63.2 percent of its threes compared to 60 percent at the free throw line.

The Tigers led at halftime, but senior guard Dee Bost nailed three long range jump shots in the first three minutes of the second period to put Mississippi State up 52-44. The Bulldogs never trailed after that, but the Tigers had their chances to pull even despite trailing 64-51 with 12:11 left in the game.

Missed opportunities at the free throw line late in the game were a killer for the Tigers. Rob Chubb missed two of them with 2:54 left with a chance to cut the lead to three.

Frankie Sullivan missed two free throws with 1:56 left with a chance to cut the lead to three as he went to the line for four free throws, two coming on a technical foul. For the game Auburn was 26-36 on foul shots.

The Bulldogs built the lead to 87-79 left after Renardo Sidney hit two free throws with 50.6 seconds left. Auburn kept pushing with the help of a three by Kenny Gabriel, but didn't have enough time left to pull off the comeback and came up three points short.

Sophomore forward Allen Payne goes high for a stuff after a second half steal for the Tigers.

Ward came off the bench and hit 7-14 field goals and 9-12 free throws to accumulate his 26 points. He also chipped in with five assists with three steals and turned the ball over just one time in 29 minutes of playing.

The Tigers got 22 points from Gabriel, who was 4-8 on three point shots and 7-14 overall. The senior was the game's leading rebounder with 11 as the Tigers won the battle on the boards 34-32.

Sullivan chipped in with 14 points while Allen Payne contributed 10 points and eight rebounds.

Arnett Moultrie led the Bulldogs in scoring with 21 points while Sidney added 17 and Bost contributed 15 points.

Barbee said he like a lot of what he saw offensively, but added, "Obviously, you can't give up 91 and win the game. We have been better than this defensively all year long. Just as our offense comes we lose what has made us all season long, our defense, which is disappointing."

Both teams were on target with their shooting in the first half. The Tigers hit 15-27 field goals (55.6 percent) and the Bulldogs were even better, making 67 percent of their shots (17-27) in the first 20 minutes.

The three-point shooting was really good in the first half as the Tigers made 4-9 attempts and the Bulldogs were really sizzling as they made 7-12.

Auburn led 44-43 at intermission after Gabriel hit a three-pointer from the corner with a second left on the clock for his 15th point of the half. Auburn built its halftime edge by making 10-12 free throws while Mississippi State shot just two, connecting on both.

Neither team made a big run in the first half. The Bulldogs led by as many as six points at 39-33. Auburn's largest lead in the period was at 26-22 on a basket by Ward with 8:10 on the clock.

"It was a tough game," Ward said. "It is hard to when you score 88 points and come up short. If we had come out and guarded better, we would have ended up winning. It is hard to win on the road when a team shoots 60 percent. If we had guarded like we usually guarded, we could have stolen this one."

The Bulldogs kept the pressure on Auburn through the second half with good shooting, but could never shake the Tigers, who tied the school record for the fewest turnovers in a game with three while the Bulldogs turned the ball over 10 times. That helped the Tigers launch 61 field goals, 13 more than the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State outshot Auburn in the second half 57.1 to 39.4 percent.

"They are a really good team," Barbee said of the Bulldogs. "They have got really good offensive players. It makes it hard. They have got guys we will be watching in the NBA, but still you can't give up 60 percent shooting and win the game."

The Tigers will return to action with a home game on Tuesday vs. Alabama. The contest is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. and will be televised by ESPNU.

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