Tigers Knock Off No. 23 Ranked Bulldogs

Tony Barbee picked up his first Auburn win vs. a Top 25 opponent as the Tigers knocked off Mississippi State on Saturday night.

Auburn, Ala.--After building an 11-point lead at half, Auburn held off No. 23 Mississippi State in the second half for a 65-55 SEC basketball win, its first over a ranked team since the Tigers bested No.11 LSU in 2009 and its fourth victory in the conference this season.

The loss is Mississippi State's fourth in a row at Auburn, the first time since 1997-2001 the Bulldogs have lost four straight on the Plains. The win was also payback for the Bulldogs' 91-88 win in Starkville two weeks ago.

Mississippi State (19-8, 6-6) slowly chipped away at Auburn's lead in the second half behind the shooting of Arnett Moultrie and Dee Bost. A pair of free throws by Bost, who finished with 11 points, trimmed Auburn's lead to three around the five minute mark, but the Bulldogs would get no closer.

The Tigers hit all six free throw attempts with less than a minute left to close out the game. In all, the Tigers made 11 of 14 shots from the charity stripe.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee said the Tigers got the stops they needed at the end of the game to get the win. "We have been working on it," said Barbee of playing tough down the stretch. "A lot of that had to do with the freshness of the legs and the mind because of the rest. We worked on it, too.

"No matter what takes place, you have to keep fighting," Barbee added. "That is a great lesson served because our team fought tonight. They made a run and we weren't making shots, but we continued to fight. It doesn't guarantee a win, but if you don't fight, it is probably going to guarantee that you lose."

Barbee said the week off came a great time for the team, allowing the Tigers to get much-needed rest.

"We were struggling mentally and physically," noted Barbee. "Being able to give these guys three and a half days off served us in a big way because we got our legs back. Everybody got refreshed and it showed."

Auburn had one of its better performances from the field, shooting 47.2 percent, and also held an edge over Mississippi State in rebounds, 36 to 21.

Frankie Sullivan, who was honored before the game as the 33rd member of Auburn's 1,000-point club, led Auburn in scoring with 16 points, which included a tough floater with 1:39 left that put the Tigers up six.

"It was definitely a tough shot because that was all luck," said Sullivan of the floater. "He fouled me all the way to the hoop, but it went in. I think it was time for us to get to this turning point, and to get this win.

Sullivan is fired up during Auburn's victory on Saturday night as 8,336 watched at the Auburn Arena.

The Tigers' mental toughness and communication were the difference between this game and the matchup against the Bulldogs in Starkville, added Sullivan.

Kenny Gabriel, who scored 15 points and pulled down nine rebounds, said the win over Mississippi State means that the Tigers can play with any team in the country.

"It just means that we can play with anybody if we play that hard, physical and tough," Gabriel said. "That's what coach has been trying to get us to do the last couple of games."

Varez Ward came off the bench and stepped up for the Tigers with 10 points and nine assists. The bench came up big for Auburn on the evening with 22 points to Mississippi State's nine.

The Tigers also held the edge in the paint, scoring 34 points to the Bulldogs 22. Auburn took care of the ball as well, committing 10 turnovers, including only three in the first half when the Tigers built an 11-point lead.

Moultrie, who leads the SEC in rebounding (10.8 per game) and double-doubles (14), was largely held in check in the first half, but ended the game with another double-double, scoring 16 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.

The Tigers started slow offensively in the first half, not hitting their first basket until the 15:45 mark when Gabriel tipped in a Varez Ward missed three-point attempt. At that point, State held a 7-2 lead.

Senior forward Kenny Gabriel drives to the hoop for the Tigers.

With 10 minutes remaining in the first half, the Tigers got a spark off the bench with Allen Payne's three pointer, which started a 16-0 run by Auburn over the next six minutes, giving the Tigers a 25-16 lead. Payne finished with six points and six rebounds on the evening.

"Allen made some plays like the offensive rebound on the free throw late in the game," Barbee said. "He made some free throws late in the game that were huge. I thought he played really solid defense, too."

With 4:25 to go in the first period, a no-look pass by Ward led to a reverse dunk by Gabriel, stretching Auburn's lead to 23-16 and bringing the crowd to its feet.

During a timeout with 10 seconds left in the half, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury was called for a technical. Sullivan made one of two free throws, and a Varez Ward layup beat the buzzer to give Auburn a 35-24 halftime lead.

Stansbury said Auburn's two-three zone defense caused the Bulldogs problems. "I thought it sped us up," the coach said. "I thought them making that run at us sped us up. We had about four or five bad possessions there. That let them spurt a little bit on us."

The Tigers shot 53.6 percent from the field in the first half and also limited turnovers, committing only three. Auburn also took a slight 17-16 rebounding edge into halftime, aided by the absence of 6-10 forward Renaldo Sidney, who was averaging 5.2 boards per game. He was sidelined due to back spasms.

The Tigers will try to get their first conference win on the road on Tuesday when they travel to Gainesville, Fla. to take on the Florida Gators. The game is set to tip off at 6 p.m. CST.

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