Lebo's Tigers Headed to Starkville

Auburn hits the road for a Southeastern Conference basketball at Mississippi State.

Auburn, Ala.--Coach Jeff Lebo's Auburn basketball team faces the challenge of taking on Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum where the Bulldogs are 10-1 this season going into Saturday evening's contest vs. the Tigers.

Tipoff time is set for shortly after 6 p.m CST for the game that will be televised on FSN. The host Bulldogs bring a 17-7 overall mark into the contest and are 5-4 in the SEC after winning at home 71-63 vs. Ole Miss on Thursday night

"Anytime you go on the road, it is difficult," Lebo says. "We were right there on the road at Arkansas to try to get one. We are playing better I think. If we can just keep the momentum going, I think some guys are steadily improving. I think our team is getting better.

"Defensively, we have been better the last few games," the coach adds. "We need to continue that as we make the stretch run."

Commenting on his team's defense, which sparked the Tigers to victory on Wednesday night with an 82-63 home victory vs. Georgia, Lebo says, "We have talked about it. We have always made it an emphasis. Keeping some guys on the floor is helpful for us...(Brendon) Knox being out of foul problems in the game. We need him defensively and offensively to be on the floor for us. I just think we are getting better at it."

The Bulldogs are led in scoring by 6-7, 175 junior guard Ravern Johnson, who is averaging 14.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

However, once again the big dog in Starkville is 6-9, 230 senior forward Jarvis Varnado, who is scoring 13.4 points per game, averaging 11.3 rebounds per contest and 5.0 blocks per outing.

Return to sender: Jarvis Varnado blocks another shot.

Varnado, who has blocked 120 shots this season, has 510 for his career. The NCAA record is 535 set by Wojciech Mydra of Louisiana-Monroe from 1998-2002.

"He is second all-time in the NCAA in career blocks," Lebo says of Varnado. "He shuts down anything easy around the basket area. You look at their field goal percent defense, which is third in the league, and he really has a lot to do with (opponents) not ever getting anything easy around the basket area.

"You have to be careful how you attack him," Lebo notes "If you try to go around him and not through him, he will alter it or block it. It is amazing what he can do around the basket area. Knox, the last couple of times we have played against them, has had some success in there against him.

"Not only on the ball, but when you take it in off the ball, he doesn't come out of the paint too much," Lebo adds. "He is just always lurking there. He covers so much ground with his length and his ability to move.

"I have never seen a guy even when you kind of get to his chest, he kind of just takes the hit and can still unfold and get a piece of the shot," Lebo says. "I haven't seen many people score on him consistently inside."

Mississippi State features a pair of three-point threats in starting guards Dee Bost, a 6-2 sophomore, and 6-3 senior Barry Stewart, who is averaging 11.4 points per game. Bost is scoring 11.2 per contest.

The Bulldogs lead the SEC and are ninth nationally in three pointers made per game with 8.9. Auburn makes 8.2 treys per contest, which is third in the SEC and 25th nationally.

Mississippi State's other starter, 6-8, 220 junior forward Kodi Augustus, is averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Auburn swept the series vs. the Bulldogs last year, but the Tigers trail 22-12 all-time in games played at Humphrey Coliseum.

Auburn, which is 12-12 overall and 3-6 in the SEC, is led in scoring by DeWayne Reed's 15.8 points per game. Lucas Hargrove, who sparked the Tigers to a victory over Georgia with 24 points and 11 rebounds, leads the Tigers on the boards with an average of 7.3 rebounds per game while scoring 13.7 per game.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories