The Bulldogs came into the contest at 3-6 in the SEC and winless on the road in league play in the last two seasons. But just as Ole Miss did a week ago, Rick Stansbury's club notched their first conference road win of the year at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
"It's disappointing for us," remarked Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "They had two players that just whipped us and controlled the game. (Charles) Rhodes dominated us inside and (Jamont) Gordon on the front. I was worried about how we were going to try to defend them. They've got shooters everywhere else and Gordon can get in there. Rhodes just whipped us. He made some tough ones, but he was a man amongst boys in there today. We just couldn't stop him again. They're hard to stop."
Led by Rhodes' 25 points on 9-14 shooting, the Bulldogs made 33-61 from the floor for 54.1 percent. Auburn shot 68.2 percent in the first half, but crumbled in the final 20 minutes by making 38.2 percent and allowing 48 second half points to the Bulldogs.
"We needed it," Stansbury said of Rhodes' effort. "Did I expect it? I was hoping we'd have it and it was what we needed. To win on the road you need your best player to play like that. Second chance points we had 15 to Auburn's one. One thing we've done in our program over the years is try to rebound on the road. The first time it was 44 all and we found away to lead them by four today. That's toughness and effort right there."
Rhodes (23) and Josh Dollard battle for rebounding position.
Whether it was Quan Prowell, unquestionably the most talented player on the team, having more turnovers (four) than shot attempts (three), Josh Dollard erasing an important free throw with a lane violation down the stretch, Rasheem Barrett continuing his horrid shooting from the floor with a 5-14 performance or the entire defense playing soft, the Tigers crumbled down the stretch in a winnable game.
"Quan was not very good today," Lebo said. "Our inside guys got whipped. I don't even know if he sweated. Twenty-one minutes and four turnovers. We all have to be playing at high level--every one of us that is in the game because we don't have the type of players as some other teams. They've all got to be playing at a high level and they weren't."
Auburn led by four at halftime and jumped up by eight points with 16:57 remaining. Rhodes, who scored the first eight points of the game, went on another scoring spree with eight straight for the Bulldogs to close to within two. A Ben Hansbrough three pointer then gave the Bulldogs the lead at 60-59.
Minutes later Mississippi State had the ball with a five-point advantage when the Bulldogs pounded the boards. After three offensive rebounds the ball was tipped out to Gordon, who drained a three and put his team up eight.
"(The second half lead) evaporated quickly and we just couldn't stop them," Lebo noted. "When they did miss one they got two and three attempts at it in the second half on the offensive glass. Rhodes is really good. He and Gordon, I thought just dominated the game."
Gordon finished with 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.
Auburn had its chances to get back and even cut the lead to three points with three minutes remaining, but shot the Tigers themselves in the foot.
"We had some key times in the second half where we had a little run and missed shots," Lebo noted. "We missed foul shots and open threes to get us back into the hunt a little bit and the crowd back into it. We missed them."
Dollard played a solid game offensively, making 6-10 from the floor, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight boards. Barrett finished with 15, but needs to find his groove or shoot less if the Tigers' are to have success down the stretch. The sophomore shooting guard has made just 37-107 shots in the last 11 games.
"We just have to find a way to keep going," Lebo said of Auburn's sloppy play in recent games. "We go on the road three of our last five. We've got an off week right now.
"I was just disappointed defensively," he added. "We have to be able to guard the ball. All they did was look us in the eye and say we're going to beat you one on one or throw it in to Rhodes and beat you in there. They street-balled us and whipped us."
Auburn dropped to 14-11 overall, 4-7 in the SEC. Mississippi State is 13-10, 4-6.