Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on "Senior Night" at The Hump, marking ESPN's second visit to Starkville this season."> Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on "Senior Night" at The Hump, marking ESPN's second visit to Starkville this season.">

No. 5 MSU faces Auburn on ESPN at The Hump

On a strategic mission since early in the campaign, Mississippi State's "Road Warriors" return home for an all-important ESPN "Tuesday Night Special" against the Auburn Tigers.<P> Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on "Senior Night" at The Hump, marking ESPN's second visit to Starkville this season.

Mississippi State can clinch at least a share of its first regular-season overall SEC title since 1990-91 with a win over Auburn. Any combination of one win by MSU, and or, loss by SEC East-leading Kentucky (21-4, 11-3) and the Dogs are eligible to hang another banner at The Hump.

Ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press and the USA Today/ESPN top 25 polls released Monday, Mississippi State (23-2, 12-2 SEC) sewed up the Western Division title last week with a convincing, 84-58, win over LSU, its second straight division title. But there was no celebration or net cutting. The Bulldogs are hopefully saving that magical moment for something a little more special.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury emphasized the mood of his team again following a hard-earned 72-69 road win Saturday over Vanderbilt, one of the SEC's hottest teams down the stretch.

"The win over LSU was very important, but the players didn't want to celebrate right then, cut the nets," said Stansbury. "I believe they still have some other goals.

"I don't believe they're celebrating much in the locker room now (following Vandy), although I'm very proud of them. Anytime you win on the road, it is special. For our kids to come in here and win shows our heart and toughness.

"Our kids were going to find a way to win - that's why they're the 'Road Warriors' that they are," added Stansbury, whose Bulldogs are undefeated this season away from home (11-0).

Junior transfer Lawrence Roberts, a national finalists for the Wooden, Naismith and Rupp Player of the Year Awards, led four MSU players in double figures with a team-high 18 points against Vanderbilt. The 6-9 frontliner paced both teams with 14 rebounds to post his 14th double-double of the season.

Senior co-captain Timmy Bowers, a finalists for this year's inaugural Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award, joined Roberts in double figures with 16 points. Winsome Frazier had 15 and Branden Vincent had 12. Bowers and Vincent will be honored along with Lincoln Smith, Dennis Buse and Errol Bennett during "Senior Night" pregame activities.

It marks the final home appearance of the regular-season for the nationally-ranked Bulldogs who have already wrapped-up the SEC West, their second straight divisional crown.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury acknowledged following the road win at Vanderbilt that "we've put ourselves in position to win a championship.

"Now it's our last home game of the year, and we know we're playing a good Auburn team," added Stansbury."We also know Cliff Ellis will have his basketball team ready to play."

The self-proclaimed "Road-Warriors" racked-up their 11th consecutive win away from home at Vanderbilt, putting the Dogs in position to clinch at least a share of the SEC title tonight before a home crowd.

Mississippi State is also making a bid to become the first hoops team in school history to win 25 games during the regular season. James Harrison "Babe" McCarthy's 1958-59 squad paced by Hall of Famer Bailey Howell and the 1961-62 teams led by Leland Mitchell, Red Stroud and Joe Dan Gold, both went 24-1 overall and 13-1 in conference play.

Auburn brings a 13-12 overall record into tonight's league battle. The Bulldogs defeated the Tigers 73-68 in a tight one on The Plains earlier in the campaign. Led by veteran coach Cliff Ellis, the Tigers are 4-10 in SEC play following a tough one-point loss to rival Alabama and a 75-69 setback this past Saturday to Tennessee.

The Tigers will be without leading scorer (13.8 ppg) and rebounder (7.0 rpg) Marco Killingsworth against the Bulldogs. The 6-7, 235-pound junior was ejected during the Tennessee game for fighting.

Senior center Kyle Davis is one of the SEC's best defensive players, averaging nearly three blocks a game. He also averages 6.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg. Junior Brandon Robinson is averaging 10.8 ppg and Ian Young an even 10.0 ppg.

Mississippi State closes out the regular season, traveling Saturday, March 6, to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a 2 p.m. televised contest against Alabama at Coleman Coliseum.

Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page. He can be reached by email at sdnsport@netdoor.com

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