Photo by Jason Caldwell

Auburn's Basketball Team Misses An Opportunity In Regular Season Finale

The Tigers couldn't overcome a poor first half shooting performance in a loss at Mississippi State.

Bruce Pearl's Tigers finished their regular season with a third consecutive loss.

Starkville, Miss.--With an opportunity to avoid playing on the opening night of the SEC Basketball Tournament, the Auburn Tigers were not up to the task as Mississippi State pulled away late in the first half and cruised to a 79-66 victory on Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum.

The loss means that Auburn will play Tennessee on Wednesday in Nashville in the opening game of the tournament. Tipoff for that contest, the only one on the opening night because Missouri is on probation, is set for 7 p.m. CST.

The stage was set to avoid the Wednesday game when Ole Miss and Kentucky won on Saturday, but Auburn was out-rebounded 43-35 and gave up 11 three-pointers to the Bulldogs.

Auburn hit 42.4 percent of its field goals to 41.9 percent for the home team, but the Tigers were just 9-16 at the foul line while the Bulldogs made 16-23 free throws.

The Tigers dropped to 11-19 overall and 5-13 in league play. The Bulldogs improved to 14-16 and 7-11 in the SEC.

Sophomore guard T.J. Lang led Auburn in scoring with 16 points as he hit 5-7 three-pointers.

Horace Spencer and Tyler Harris each scored 13 points while pulling in five rebounds. For Spencer, a freshman, it was his top scoring game of the season.

Cinmeon Bowers contributed with a double-double, scoring 10 points and pulling in 11 rebounds.

Malik Newman led Mississippi State in scoring with 17 points while Quinndary Weatherspoon added 16 points.

Auburn jumped out to an 8-0 lead at the 16:58 mark on a three by Lang, but went cold offensively after that. "We jumped out, then, offensively, we got real stagnant for no reason," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.

"It was an incredible slow start,” Mississippi coach Ben Howland said. “The team had a lot of adrenaline. Everyone was sped up. Malik and Q came in there and really gave us a lift. Overall, it was a good win for us. Our defense in the first half was outstanding."

A basket by Newman put the Bulldogs ahead 14-13 at the 8:03 mark and the home team never gave up the lead. A layup by Newman made the score 26-16 at the 5:07 mark. By halftime the lead was up to 39-20.

The Tigers shot better in the second half, hitting 17-30 field goals including 5-8 threes, but the defense wasn’t good enough to pull off a comeback with MSU scoring 40 points in the second half vs. Auburn’s 46.

“That first half offense cost us the game,” said Pearl, whose squad made just 8-29 field goals in the opening 20 minutes.

Each team had 16 turnovers, but the Bulldogs outscored the Tigers 17-12 in points off of turnovers.

Worth Noting, Part 1: Mississippi State’s bench outscored Auburn’s bench 45-16.

Worth Noting, Part 2: The Tigers outscored the Bulldogs 34-22 for points in the paint.

Stat of the Game: Mississippi State hit four consecutive three-pointers to spark a 14-2 run to take a 20-13 lead in the opening half.

Up Next: Auburn, the 12th seed for the SEC Tournament, will play No 13 seed Tennessee for the third time this season. Auburn won 83-77 at Auburn Arena on Jan. 2nd and fell 71-45 at Knoxville on Feb. 9.

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