MSU to face Auburn

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Riding a streak of four consecutive SEC wins all by double-figure margins, the 11th-ranked Bulldogs of Mississippi State (17-1, 6-1) head to the Plains this weekend to take on the Auburn Tigers (11-6, 2-4) Saturday afternoon on the AU campus. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. at Auburn's Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

Having posted four straight double-digit league victories for the first time since MSU's 1995-96 NCAA Final Four campaign, coach Rick Stansbury's 17-1 Bulldogs most recently swept a brief two-game homestand by recording convincing home triumphs over SEC East foes Tennessee (82-60) and Georgia (71-58) this past Wednesday and Saturday, respectively. Having already matched the 6-1 start in league play registered by the 1993-94 State squad, this year's Bulldog club is now bidding for the school's first 7-1 SEC start since coach Babe McCarthy's 1962-63 MSU contingent started out 8-1 in league play on the way to recording a 12-2 SEC mark (22-6 overall) as well as claiming a fourth Southeastern Conference championship during a five-year span (1959-63) under McCarthy's guidance.

Owners of a league-most seven true road wins this season, the Bulldogs have opened league road competition with successive SEC victories on the home floors of Florida, LSU and Mississippi. Before this season, the last time an MSU squad had won as many as three onsecutive conference road games in one season was during State's NCAA Sweet 16 season of 1994-95, when Richard Williams' Bulldogs recorded a total of five SEC road wins, including four straight over LSU, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi during the month of February.

Outscoring their last four opponents by an average margin of 14.0 points per game, the Bulldogs have climbed to the top of the league statistics in scoring margin (+11.4 ppg) for conference games only. Averaging 77.3 points per contest on collective 50.9 field-goal shooting as a team over the last three games, Mississippi State enters the weekend ranked second in the league behind Florida in both scoring offense (71.9 ppg) and field-goal percentage (47.6%) for SEC games only. Defensively as a team against league competition, the Bulldogs stand third in the conference in scoring defense (60.4 ppg) and fourth in field-goal percentage defense (40.4%) after limiting their last three opponents to collective 36.3 percent field-goal shooting and holding their last four foes to an average of 60.0 points an outing.

Individually, the Bulldogs are powered by the inside presence of junior forward/center Lawrence Roberts, who this week was named as a midseason top 30 candidate for the prestigious John R. Wooden Award. The former Baylor transfer continues to rank as the SEC's sixth-leading scorer (16.7 ppg) and No. 2 rebounder (9.9 rpg), along with standing sixth among the conference leaders in field-goal percentage (56.6%). Fellow preseason all-SEC selection Timmy Bowers ranks among the league's Top 10 statistical leaders in six different categories, including scoring (15.7 ppg; 9th), assists (4.4 apg; 3rd), steals (1.9 spg; 5th), and made 3-pointers per game (2.3 treys/gm; 5th). The senior team co-captain from Gulfport has climbed into 21st place on MSU's all-time scoring list with 1,134 career points, along with having moved into second place on the school's all-time chart with 167 career made 3-pointers.

Guided by 29th-year coaching veteran Cliff Ellis, now in his 10th season at Auburn University, the Tigers are 11-6 overall and 2-4 in league play after dropping a 68-52 road decision to the Florida Gators last Saturday in Gainesville. Auburn's pair of conference wins this season have both been at home over SEC West foes Mississippi (80-53) and Arkansas (70-63). The Tigers are led in scoring by junior forward Marco Killingsworth, who averages 14.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, along with leading the SEC in field-goal percentage (63.7%). Fellow junior forward Brandon Robinson is averaging 11.9 points and 7.3 rebounds an outing, while senior center Kyle Davis looms as the league's top shot-blocker (2.9 bpg), in addition to averaging 8.1 points and a team-best 8.2 rebounds per contest.

Having prevailed in the last five head-to-head meetings with Auburn, including last year's sweep of the Tigers (63-46 at Auburn and 67-45 at Starkville), the Bulldogs are bidding to record a sixth straight series win over AU for the first time in the program's 92-year hardwood history. With road wins over Auburn each of the last two years, State will also be looking to record three straight victories on the Plains for the first time since the 1960s.

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