The loss was the fifth in a row for Auburn and drops the Tigers to 9-10 overall and 1-7 in SEC play while the Bulldogs improve to 17-4 overall and 4-3 in conference play.
While continued struggles shooting the ball haunted the Tigers, it was the work on the boards that eventually did them in Wednesday night. Outrebounded 45-28 by the conference's best boarding team, the Tigers just gave up too many possessions to the physical Bulldogs.
Especially hurtful were the 18 offensive rebounds Mississippi State gathered giving the Bulldogs extra chance after extra chance at the basket. While the entire State team has to be given ultimate credit for the rebounding performance it begins and ends in the paint with Mr. Austin
Kyle Davis sends a shot back where it came from.
"He was a load," Ellis said. "We tried to double him. He got Marco (Killingsworth) in foul trouble early. He was able to have his way. He's a pro prospect. He's big time. Outside of the physical play, he was the individual difference in the game."
While Austin was the difference in the entire game, the difference between the Bulldogs of the first half and the second half was the play of Timmy Bowers. Coming off the bench, Bowers went scoreless in the first 20 minutes but came alive when the Bulldogs needed him most. After Auburn was able to take a brief lead in the first minute of the second half with a three-point basket from Marquis Daniels and a lay-up by Killingsworth, Mississippi State showed why they are one of the surprise teams in the country this season.
Leading 34-33, the Tigers would get outscored 12-2 over the next 5:48 of the game to leave themselves yet another mountain to climb in the second half of an SEC game. The Tigers would battle back behind the play of Daniels, who would score five of his team high 16 points in the next four minutes and Auburn clawed back to within one at 51-50. The Tigers actually had a chance to tie the game but the second free throw from freshman Dwayne Mitchell didn't fall. Leading by just one, it was time for the Bowers show.
Following a tip-in by Austin that gave State a three point lead, Bowers scored the fifth and sixth points of his nine point outburst in just under eight minutes that gave Rick Stansbury's team a 59-50 lead with just 5:55 remaining. The Tigers would never get closer than six the rest of the way as the Bulldogs coasted to their first road win of the season in conference play and just their fifth road win in the conference in Stansbury's four plus seasons at Mississippi State.
In addition to Daniels, the Tigers were led in scoring by Derrick Bird, who looked to be back closer to his form of early in the season. He scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and was a perfect 5-5 from the free throw line. The trio of true freshmen starters didn't have a bad night as Brandon Robinson scored eight points and pulled down five rebounds, Killingsworth added seven points and five rebounds and Lewis Monroe dished out eight assists while committing just two turnovers. This was the first time since Jan. 28, 1997 that an Auburn team started three freshmen. That night Doc Robinson, Mamadou N'Diaye and Daymeon Fishback earned the start in a 72-62 win over Alabama.
"I thought Lewis did a good job," Ellis said. "He struggled with his shot but eight assists and two turnovers is the kind of numbers we're looking for. He also played good defense. I liked the way Derrick Bird shot the ball. I thought Marco came out in the early part and got things going but he got a little frustrated in the second half and his scoring went down. Brandon was doing a good job, but was missing some box outs. It was just things like that which kept happening that would give them that one possession or two."
Poor shooting once again haunted the Tigers in a first half of play as they shot just 40 percent from the floor and made just 3-of-10 from three-point range. But that was enough to keep them in the game because of a stifling defense. Led by Davis' five rebounds and three blocks, the Tigers were able to stay within striking distance heading into the second half. They actually held a lead much of the first 20 minutes, but just as in games before a run by the opposing team put them behind the eight ball. Leading 22-19 following a jumper by Abdou Diame, the Tigers appeared to be in good shape but that was when the Bulldogs came alive. Scoring 12 of the next 14 points, Mississippi State took control and when Austin scored on a short jumper with 37 seconds left in the game the Bulldogs took a 33-29 lead into the break.
The Tigers return to action Saturday afternoon when they face the Arkansas Razorbacks at the always tough Bud Walton Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for noon and can be seen on Jefferson-Pilot Sports.