The Tigers trailed by nine at halftime after allowing MSU to score 14 of the last 15 points of the period. The Bulldogs then doubled the margin to 18 points with 15:22 in the second half before Auburn rallied and cut the lead to two points with 2:03 remaining on a three-pointer by K.T. Harrell.
However, the Bulldogs responded with a clutch three by I.J. Ready on the next possession with 1:34 to play and then made their free throws to preserve the victory. MSU improved to 9-9 overall and 2-3 in the SEC while Auburn fell to 2-3 in the SEC and 10-8 overall.
Harrell led all scorers with 22 points and Cinmeon Bowers posted his 12th double-double of the season with 17 points and 16 rebounds, but the Bulldogs countered that by putting four players in double figures. Ready scored 18 points while Gavin Ware added 16 points and 17 rebounds. Craig Sword and Fred Thomas finished with 10 points apiece for the Bulldogs.
Antoine Mason scored 10 points for the Tigers, who were out-shot 46.4 percent from the field to 40.3 percent. Auburn hit 8-26 threes and 13-23 free throws while the visitors hit 5-15 threes and 21-31 free throws.
“Give those guys credit,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said about the Bulldogs. “They are going to win games in this league. It was a very young roster last year that obviously went through a difficult season. It is a talented roster, a deep roster, it is a big roster, it is athletic, they hold teams to 59 points and they made it very difficult for us to score in the first half.
“We didn’t value the ball,” Pearl added. “We didn’t value possessions. Points off of turnovers and second-chance points were the difference in the game. They had 20 second chance points and 21 points off of turnovers. We normally take much better care of the basketball.”
Cinmeon Bowers helped spark Auburn's second half rally.
Harrell said the three-pointer from the corner by Ready following his three-pointer was the big play in the game. “That one pretty much put the nail in the coffin, I guess,” the senior said.
After jumping to a quick 7-0 lead the Tigers scored just 12 more points the rest of the half. “I am not really sure,” Harrell said on what happened to his team’s offense. “I think we weren’t executing our stuff.
“Coach was calling certain plays and guys weren’t really in the right spots so we have just got to get back to work, get back to practicing what we know how to do and make sure our spacing is right.”
Harrell added, “We have got to be more consistent. We have got to figure a way to win on the road. Our mind is on Alabama and that is going to be a tough road game for us.”
Pearl said he told his team that they didn’t do the things they needed to do to win an SEC basketball game. “Defense and rebounding are things we can control," he said. "I told them when we defend and rebound we can beat about anybody in this league. When we don’t play defense and rebound we can’t beat anybody in this league.”
Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said he liked the poise his team showed playing in front of a loud crowd of 8,083 at Auburn Arena. “I thought we were really good on the defensive late in the first half,” he said, adding, “It was a good win for our guys.”
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers trailed 31-22 after making 7-26 field goals (26.9 percent) while the Bulldogs hit 12-28 for 42.9 percent. Auburn hit 3-11 threes while MSU made 2-7. Auburn hit 5-10 free throws while MSU hit 5-12. The Bulldogs led 22-19 in rebounds and turned the ball over nine times, one less than the Tigers. Harrell led AU in scoring at the break with nine points.
Worth Noting The Bulldogs were outscored 34-28 in points in the paint, but held a 20-14 edge in second-chance points and 10-4 advantage in fastbreak points. That allowed the Bulldogs to overcome 17 turnovers, five more than the Tigers.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The Bulldogs, who snapped a 16-game SEC losing streak with a win vs. Vandy, ended a 22-game road losing streak. “It is something we do not ever talk about," Ray said. "I know it is talked about in the media and I know it is talked about amongst other people, but we just do not talk about it. We talk about a game-by-game environment and game-by-game situations because, to be honest with you, a lot of these guys that are in the program do not know what the losing streak is. We are talking about guys like Travis Daniels, Fallou Ndoye and Oliver Black. They did not play in those games so it really does not matter.”
Stat of the Game: Mississippi State pulled in 44 rebounds while Auburn finished with 33.
Up Next: The Tigers will travel to Tuscaloosa for a 7:30 p.m. game on Saturday at Alabama.