MSU's Muscle Too Much For Tigers In Title Test

Mississippi State won the SEC West men's basketball championship at Auburn's expense on Saturday in Starkville.

Starkville, Miss.--In a showdown for the SEC West title, the home-standing Mississippi State Bulldogs did most of the showing as they administered a 67-45 beating on the Auburn Tigers on Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum.

The victory improved the 21st-ranked Bulldogs to 9-7 in the Southeastern Conference and 19-8 overall. State will enter the SEC Tournament in New Orleans as the No. 1 seed from the West while Auburn will be the No. 2 seed from the division. Both teams draw a first round bye. Auburn will play the winner of Thursday's Arkansas vs. Georgia game at 8:45 p.m. on Friday at the Louisiana Superdome.

State made an early statement with its physical play and good shooting. The Bulldogs hit five of their first six shots to put the pressure on Auburn, which ends the regular season at 8-8 in the SEC and 19-10 overall.

After the fast start, Coach Cliff Ellis and his Tigers could never find a way to reel in the Bulldogs, who hit 13-27 first half field goals while Auburn managed to make just 8-28. That led to a 33-17 halftime advantage for the Bulldogs, who added insult to injury by outscoring the Tigers by six more points in the second half.

"I didn't think we stood up to the physical nature of the game," said Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis. "This game was allowed to be very, very physical and we anticipated that. What you have to do is stand up to that."

Kyle Davis

Auburn got 14 points apiece from Marquis Daniels and Kyle Davis, who helped the Tigers hold their own on the backboards with the Bulldogs. Davis led all players in the game with nine rebounds. However, Auburn ended the contest with its lowest point total of the year as only five players scored for the Tigers. The previous low was one more at 46 in the first meeting with the Bulldogs last month in Auburn, another game in which MSU jumped on the Tigers early and wasn't threatened at the end.

Guard Derrick Zimmerman led all scorers with 15 points and two other Bulldogs scored in double figures. Zimmerman had a strong all-around game on Senior Day with eight assists, five turnovers, two blocks and two steals.

Timmy Bowers, who burned the Tigers for 25 points in the first meeting at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, added 14 points this time plus four assists. Forward Michal Ignerski added 12 points for State, which will play in the SEC Tournament at noon on Friday vs. the winner of Thursday's matchup vs. Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Auburn shot just 36.4 percent from the field for the game and made just 2-11 three-pointers and 3-8 free throws against the SEC's top defensive club. State shot 48.2 percent from the field and hit 8-21 treys plus 5-7 free throws. Auburn turned the ball over 20 times, four more than the home team that was aided by a boisterous sellout crowd of 9,733 at Humphrey Coliseum.

"Mississippi State was certainly the better basketball team both games that we played," Ellis said. "We had a hard time scoring against this ball club in both games. They have tremendous size and they bother your shots."

Auburn did a solid job on MSU's star player, Mario Austin. The big junior was limited to just five shots and eight points and Auburn matched up well on the boards with each team grabbing 34 rebounds.

The loss was a costly one for the Tigers who are hopeful of finishing their season in the NCAA Tournament. A win in Starkville will have made a big to the Big Dance a certainty. The loss leaves the Tigers on the bubble going into the conference tournament in New Orleans.

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