The Auburn Tigers got off to a terrible start and never recovered as the Mississippi State Bulldogs cruised to an easy 63-46 win Wednesday night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
Missed shots were the order of the day for the Tigers. They missed shots from inside, outside, the free throw line and everywhere in between as the Bulldogs built a commanding 35-19 lead at the break and never looked back on the way to the victory. Auburn made just 33.3 percent of its shots from the field for the game, including 4-of-21 from three-point range. The kicker was at the free throw line where the Tigers were a horrendous 4-of-15 from the charity stripe, which computes to just 26.7 percent for the game.
Following the game both Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis and Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury talked about how their teams prepared for Wednesday night's game. It was obvious after listening to both that this game was as good as over when the ball was tipped off. The Bulldogs were out for blood, Auburn was out to survive. That's not a good combination when first place is on the line in the SEC Western Division.
Marquis Daniels had one steal to set the all-time record at Auburn with 190 in his career.
"Our team played not to lose as opposed to playing to win," Ellis said following the game. "We've got some guys, with the exception of Marquis Daniels, who have never been in a championship run. Right now we're not playing to win, we're playing not to lose and you can't play that way. That's got to change because with that shots are just not loose enough and defenses get softer and we played the first half not to lose. Mississippi State took advantage of it. We came out and played more aggressive in the second half, but Mississippi State is too good to turn back. We cut the gap but they were still able to hold on."
Despite 17 points from Daniels and 11 points from Marco Killingsworth, the two-man show from Starkville was too strong for Auburn. Feeding off the attention paid to Mario Austin in the middle, guard Timmy Bowers scored 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting to lead the Bulldogs to the win. Despite constant double-teaming, Austin still managed to score 14 points and pull down 12 rebounds as the Bulldogs dominated the boards, outrebounding Auburn 40-30 for the game. Rebounding is all about attitude and that's what Stansbury said he saw out of his team leading up to Wednesday's game.
"This time of the year we all know things start shaping out a little bit," Stansbury said. "We came in here tonight with a little bit different emphasis on this basketball game. We prepared a little differently. We pointed towards it differently because we understood tonight that if we could come in here, not if we didn't win it didn't mean we wouldn't win the SEC West Championship. No I didn't mean that, but it meant if we did win we were going to take a big step towards that. I think our kids came in here and took a big step towards getting that done. Anytime you win on the road in this league against a team you're fighting for first place with it's huge."
Lewis Monroe scored four points and have five rebounds on the day.
The tone for the game was set early when Bowers lit up the Auburn defense in the first half for 17 points, almost outscoring the Tigers in the first 20 minutes. Things got off to a slow start for both teams with the Bulldogs holding 1-0 lead for the first three minutes of the game until a Killingsworth layup gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Austin would score a bucket just 13 seconds later and that would be the last time Auburn would lead the rest of the contest. Auburn kept it relatively close for the first 10 minutes of the half and cut the lead to one when Troy Gaines hit a jumper to make it 10-9 with 12:09 left. State would score the next eight points to double up the Tigers at 18-9. The Bulldogs continued to extend the lead and when Bowers drained a jumper with 4:15 left in the half MSU led 27-13. Gaines would bring some offense to the Tigers with a three from the wing to cut it back to 11, but State scored eight of the next 10 points to lead 35-19 at the break. It would be the third time in five games that Auburn failed to score more than 25 points in the first half.
Auburn jumped on the Bulldogs to open the second half, scoring the first 10 points of the half to cut the lead to just six. Daniels and Killingsworth each scored five points and had the crowd on its feet hoping to witness one of the biggest comebacks in Auburn history. Instead what they got was a continuation of a bad trend by the Tigers. One of missed open shots that cost them dearly in the final minutes.
Leading by just six, Mississippi State answered back by scoring seven straight points, the last three on a wide-open look from Ontario Harper at the top of the key. Auburn would keep the game within range with Daniels feeling it in the second half. Trailing 50-41 with under five minutes remaining after a Daniels basket, Auburn had a chance to cut the lead to just six, but a Derrick Bird three-pointer was off the mark. Free throws again proved to be a killer for the Tigers as State missed a shot only to have Kyle Davis grab the rebound and get fouled. Just 1-for-7 from the line on the day, he missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Bulldogs got the rebound. State scored seven of the game's next nine points to take a commanding 57-43 lead with just 1:32 left in the game and coasted to the easy 17-point win on the road.
Auburn will try to avenge the home loss when it travels to Ole Miss Saturday looking for the series sweep against the Rebels. Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 4 p.m. and can be seen on Fox Sports Net South.