The final score was 89-53. If Rick Stansbury, surely the SEC's least impressive head coach, had not cleared his bench, it would have been much worse.
Head coach Cliff Ellis said Mississippi State was the best team the Tigers had played. They surely looked the part on Saturday against an Auburn team that seemed unable or unwilling to answer the Bulldogs' physical ways. But the truth is Mississippi State isn't as good as Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee or Ole Miss, all previous Auburn opponents. Mississippi State had lost three of its last four going into Saturday's game. Against Auburn, the Bulldogs looked like an unstoppable rebounding machine, but they'd been out-rebounded in their previous four games.
I've said here before that the future is bright for this Auburn basketball team and the five freshmen in the playing rotation. But that doesn't keep the present from being puzzling. Auburn looked like a decent team in beating Georgia and Ole Miss at home. It looked like anything but a decent team at Mississippi State. Taken as a whole, this season has to be viewed as a massive disappointment.
Even after Jamison Brewer left for the NBA, Auburn had the nucleus of a good team returning. Marquis Daniels, Adam Harrington, Kyle Davis and Abdou Diame had all been tested in the SEC. Without a proven point guard, and with Lincoln Glass suspended and Mack McGadney hurting, it wouldn't have been fair to project this Auburn team as a championship contender. But 3-9 in the SEC? Loser by 17 or more on the road three times? I don't know who would have projected that.
Mack McGadney was a non-factor as a senior.
The Tigers have been woeful on offense all season. They weren't any better on defense against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs hit 9-14 three-point shots in the first half, mainly because most of those shots were as unmolested as free throws. Mississippi State led 44-24 at halftime. Instead of putting up a fight, Auburn surrendered a 14-2 run to start the second half. After that, the Bulldogs had a great time until time mercifully ran out.
Auburn is a team with seemingly little chemistry and no clue of who, if anyone, is the leader. At one time, Daniels was the clear leader. He is still, without much question, the best player on the team. But he lost his starting job for reasons I still find a bit confusing. It's hard to be a leader when you've been beaten out by Dwayne Mitchell, a talented but inconsistent freshman.
Marquis Daniels, the team's top player, is currently a reserve.
Perhaps it should have been a warning sign when Glass and McGadney, the team's only scholarship seniors, were suspended before the season. Then McGadney, a solid citizen and loyal team member, decided he'd had enough of watching and said he was going to leave the team and rehabilitate his knee. Could he have stayed with the team and rehabilitated his knee? Of course, he could have.
Glass was booted off the team for disciplinary reasons. Not long after that, Ellis put three freshmen in the starting lineup, then four. That lineup looked good early in a victory over Georgia. It didn't look so good early against Ole Miss, though the Tigers rallied from a 16-point deficit to win. The freshmen looked intimidated at Mississippi State. The veterans didn't look much better, though Harrington managed to score 15 points. The loss at Mississippi State was pivotal. Auburn, with road games left at Florida and Alabama, has little now chance now to finish with a .500 record overall. That means there will probably be no NIT bid, though it's debatable just how big a loss that is.
Yes, the future does appear bright for Auburn's young and talented team. But that doesn't make the present any better or any easier to understand.
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