. Auburn enters the contest following a dreadful 82-59 loss to a Tennessee team searching for some life of its own while the Bulldogs are coming off a 23-point win over LSU Saturday in Starkville.
Coach Cliff Ellis and crew are still searching for the right combination on the court and that means once again playing several freshmen a majority of the minutes against the Bulldogs.
One of the main performers is expected to be point guard Lewis Monroe. Coming off a decent performance against Tennessee in which he played a career-high 27 minutes totaling four points and four assists, his play has given Ellis the incentive to move leading scorer Marquis Daniels back to the small forward position full-time for the remainder of the season. That is something that should pay dividends down the road, but right now the Tigers are in the midst of a long learning curve, something that Ellis says he wishes he could avoid but can't. While he still doesn't expect him to start, he does say that Monroe will continue to see extensive time on the court.
"I think we've been forced into it with regards to finding the play at the point," Ellis said. "It's gotten to the point where we've taken the redshirt status away from Lewis Monroe and put him in. I think he's done a good job. He's been there a game and a half. He was hurt earlier in the season but was put in a position where he could come back. I think his play has been somewhat impressive. I think he's done well…that's the direction we've decided to go because Marquis' true and natural position is at the small forward."
With or without Daniels at the point, the Tigers have a tough road ahead beginning with the strong Bulldogs on Wednesday. Leading the way for coach Rick Stansbury is Alabama native Mario Austin. A bruising big man underneath with the touch to step away from the basket, he is averaging 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds on the season while shooting 57.8 percent from the floor.
Giving Austin help in the paint are a couple of solid players in Michael Ignerski, who averages 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, and Michael Gholar. Gholar averages 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds from his small forward position. At the guard positions Derrick Zimmerman and Marckell Patterson hold down the reigns for Stansbury. Patterson comes in averaging 13.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while Zimmerman averages 9.5 points but leads the league in both steals per game at 2.6 and assists per game at 6.1.
"This is the strongest Mississippi State team I've seen since Rick has been the head coach," Ellis noted. "They are off to a great start at 16-4. They've had some tremendous wins. I think their inside game is very strong. Austin, being a sophomore now, is really coming into his own. I like Michael Ignerski. I think it's a good group. On the perimeter is a lot of experience…they are a good team and a strong team in our league. We're going to have to play great basketball."
Playing great or even good basketball is something that the Tigers have been unable to do virtually all season. Struggling to score in SEC, averaging 63.9 points per game, Auburn has a terrible time getting shots to fall whether they are open or contested. Shooting just 39.6 percent from the floor in seven conference games, that number is respectable compared to the 57.4 percent shooting from the free throw line in those same seven games. The Tigers are without a single player over 70 percent that has attempted more than 10 free throws in conference play.
Joining Daniels, with his 12.2 points per game, 5.0 rebound and 4.7 assists per game averages, in the Auburn starting lineup will be senior Lincoln Glass at the point, Adam Harrington at shooting guard, Marco Killingsworth at power forward and Kyle Davis at center. Glass is averaging 3.9 points and 2.1 assists per game, Harrington 9.2 points and 3.7 rebounds, Killingsworth 7.9 points and 4.1 rebounds and Davis 6.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks.
Killingworth earns his second consecutive start in place of another freshman, Brandon Robinson. He enters off his best game of the season when he scored nine points and pulled down eight rebounds against Tennessee in 29 minutes. Robinson came off the bench to score 12 points, grab six rebounds and collect four steals. Both will be counted on heavily for the Tigers Wednesday night on the offensive and defensive ends and must play well if Auburn hopes to come away with the win.
Auburn returns to action Saturday at noon when they face the dangerous Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville. The game can be seen on Jefferson-Pilot Sports.