Bench Players Shine as AU Moves Up to 2nd

Auburn won for the sixth time in its last seven games with a victory at Mississippi State.

Starkville, Miss.--The Auburn Tigers staggered Mississippi State by walloping the home team with their bench and the Bulldogs never recovered as the Tigers moved into second place in the SEC West.

Auburn's bench outscored Mississippi State's bench 36-0 as the Tigers took a 76-58 basketball victory on Saturday night.

"The shot in the arm we got from those guys was obviously huge," said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. "That's amazing. You will take that any time."

The victory improves Auburn's record to 19-10 overall and 8-6 in the SEC with two games left to play.

Mississippi State fell to 7-7 in the conference and 17-12 overall as the Tigers swept the regular season series vs. the Bulldogs for the first time since January of 2000.

Auburn took the lead early in the first half on a jump shot by Rasheem Barrett to go on top 8-7 and led the rest of the game.

Barrett's basket was the start of an 9-0 run for the Tigers that included a basket by backup center Brendon Knox, who came off the bench to score six first half points.

The Tigers also got six first half points from freshman guard Frankie Sullivan to help Auburn outscore the Bulldogs 18-0 in first half bench points. Sullivan finished the game with a team-high 14 points for the Tigers.

Sullivan hit 4-5 shots, including 3-4 treys, while adding four assists without a turnover.

Lucas Hargrove scored 12 points for the Tigers in a reserve role and the other 10 bench points were scored by Brendon Knox, who had his Auburn high scoring game by hitting 5-7 shots in his 12 minutes of action.

The Tigers got 12 points from Barrett, eight from DeWayne Reed and seven from Tay Waller, who scored 32 points in the first victory over Mississippi State in Auburn.

"I thought Rasheem Barrett was awfully good," Lebo said of the senior. "He was very solid. He shot over 50 percent and was 2-2 from three and had a couple of key offensive rebounds for us. He was very solid taking the correct shot and making the correct play."

Barrett was 5-9 shooting while adding three assists with two steals plus just one turnover.

The other big factors in the victory were Auburn's defensive play and good shooting by the Tigers, who hit 9-17 three-pointers. State also hit nine threes, but took 30 field goals to do it.

For the game, Auiburn hit 49.1 percent of its field goals, making 28-57. State also shot 57 field goals, but made just 20.

"I thought defensively we were awfully alert," Lebo said. "I thought we had a lot of deflections. We got our hands on a lot of balls and for the most part we got to their three-point shooters."

Mississippi State turned the ball over 18 times compared to 10 for Auburn.

By halftime Auburn's margin had increased to 38-21 thanks to good shooting and good defense by the Tigers. Auburn hit 15-30 field goals and 7-12 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes. Mississippi State hit just 7-26 field goals and was 2-11 on threes.

At the foul line Auburn was just 1-5 in the first half while the Bulldogs made 5-8 free throws. Auburn held a 19-18 edge in rebounding at the break.

The Tigers continued to play well in the second half and held off several runs by the home team, which was never able to cut Auburn's lead into single digits.

Quantez Robertson blocks out Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado.

Auburn built its lead to 60-40 on a left-handed layup by Barrett. The Bulldogs then made their big run and cut the lead to 65-54 with 2:16 to play on a three-pointer by Ravern Johnson, but Auburn pulled away in the closing minutes.

Lebo said his Tigers made a couple of key plays at that point of the game to preserve the victory. "I am really proud of my team," the coach added. "They have put themselves into a position that every game is a meaningful game."

Jarvis Varnado led the Bulldogs in scoring with 14 points and was MSU's top rebounder with nine. He helped the Bulldogs out-rebound Auburn 37-33.

Auburn continued to struggle with its foul shooting making 11-22 while State hit 9-12 foul shots.

The victory margin matched Auburn's largest ever at Humphrey Coliseum when the Tigers won by the same score in 1983 with a team that featured Charles Barkley and Chuck Person.

Hargrove, a junior said, "In previous years, we were always at the bottom of the SEC and now playing at the end of the year for something means a lot to me personally because we are just not playing to be playing. Now, we are playing for postseason hopes."

Auburn returns to action with a Tuesday game at Alabama. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CST and the game will be televised by ESPN.

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