Dynamic Duo Leads Auburn to Victory

Chris Denson, K.T. Harrell and the Auburn basketball Tigers defeated Mississippi State 92-82.

Auburn, Ala.--Chris Denson scored 30 points and fellow Auburn guard K.T. Harrell finished with 26 points as the Tigers ended a two-game losing skid with a 92-82 SEC basketball victory over Mississippi State on Saturday.

Denson hit 10-17 field goals and added seven rebounds for the Tigers, who improved their record to 12-11 overall and 4-8 in the SEC.

As a team the Tigers hit 51 percent of their field goals and sizzled at the free throw line, making 37-41 (90.2 percent).

The Tigers put four players in double figures in scoring with Allen Payne finishing with 14 points and Taj Shamsid-Deen adding 10.

Guard Trivante Bloodman led the Bulldogs in scoring with 18 points. He hit 14-15 free throws in a game the Bulldogs got to the free throw line for 36 foul shots while making 29.

A total of 28 fouls were called on the Tigers and 31 on MSU by the whistle-happy crew of Anthony Jordan, Willi C.J. Washington and Mike Thibodeaux.

Auburn outscored the Bulldogs 11-8 in fastbreak points and 30-11 in points off of turnovers.

"We got a lot of turnovers (21) and a lot of points off of turnovers," Denson said. "We have got play like that all of the time."

Denson said that the extra work he has put into his free throw shooting is one of the reasons he is scoring so well. "I work on it before and after practice," he said. "I am even working on it before the game because I am at the free throw line so many times."

The SEC's leading scorer noted that assistant coach Ryan Miller has been working on the guard's form at the line. One of the changes Denson has made is to not dribble before he takes a foul shot.

Harrell, who struggled in the Wednesday game vs. Kentucky, said his confidence wasn't shaken by his poor performance vs. the Wildcats. "It's how you bounce back that defines you," the junior said. "I came in focused and ready to play."

Mississippi State led by as much as seven points in the opening half, but the Tigers quickly reeled in the Bulldogs and took a 15-point advantage at intermission with the score at 40-25.

The Tigers overcame hot shooting early by the Bulldogs, who cooled to 44.4 percent for the first 20 minutes while Auburn hit half of its 24 field goals in the period.

K.T. Harrell drives to the basket vs. the Bulldogs.

The Tigers were deadly at the foul line in the opening half, hitting 16-17 free throws. Harrell scored 14 in the first 20 minutes while Denson and Payne added 10 points apiece.

Auburn's defense, which used full-court pressure at times, man-to-man at times and primarily zone in the halfcourt, forced 16 turnovers by the Bulldogs in the opening half.

Auburn built the lead to 21 points in the second half. MSU cut the margin to eight points with 33 seconds left, but never seriously threatened to win the game as the Bulldogs fell to 13-12 overall and 3-9 in the SEC. MSU has now lost seven consecutive games with its last win coming vs. Auburn in January.

The Tigers got six points off the bench from Malcolm Canada and eight rebounds from Matthew Atewe, who is from Canada.

"I thought we were settling too much for jump shots early in this game and early in the second half," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "I just told those guys to attack the basket and don't settle. They got aggressive and that is why they got to the line so much."

Tony Barbee didn't always agree with the officiating decisions on Saturday at Auburn Arena.

Mississippi State's Bloodman said the Bulldogs never were able to recover from Auburn's run in the first half. "We weren't making any baskets at the time," he said. "Defensively, we kept making a lot of fouls and Auburn was getting a lot of points at the free throw line. That was what killed us in the first half."

Rick Ray, head coach of the Bulldogs, said he thought there were an unusually high number of fouls called in the contest. "To me the game boils down to turnovers and points off of those turnovers," he said. "We fouled a lot trying to catch up with them."

Stat of the Game: Denson and Harrell combined for 56 points, but most by two Tigers this season. Together they were 16-27 from the field and made 23-25 free throws.

Worth Noting, Part 1: Former Auburn lettermen were honored at halftime of the game.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Patrick Burch, AU student, hit a length of the court (94 feet) putt to win $15,000 toward the purchase of a car from a local automobile dealer.

Worth Noting, Part 3: Four Tigers fouled out on Saturday. Dion Wade, Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, Shamsid-Deen and Attewe each had five fouls.

The Tigers return to action with a 6 p.m. CST game on Wednesday at Florida.

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