Bulldogs Avoid Auburn Upset In OT 85-75

Dee Bost had no clue why his outside shot had been off-mark for so long. So he wasn't wasting any post-game time figuring why it suddenly, emphatically returned. "I don't know," Bost said. "I just felt good at the beginning of the game and kept playing hard." As well as shooting straight, sticking seven treys and 32 points as Mississippi State outlasted Auburn 85-75 in overtime.

Bost's career-night not only allowed the Bulldogs (18-7, 6-4 SEC) to escape an upset bid by the Tigers. Coupled with Arkansas' loss at Alabama it pushed Mississippi State back to the top of the Western Division with the 6-4 Razorbacks. Auburn fell further back in the West as well as under. 500 overall at 12-13, 3-7 SEC. The loss was a little harder for the Tigers to take as they had led by 14 points midway of the first half, and by three points with 1:24 to go in regulation.

"It came down to the will to win," said Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan. "They wanted it more than we did."

Bost certainly wanted to win one. The sophomore hasn't had the sort of SEC season expected, especially with his outside shooting at 21%. Yet in the last two contests a few warming-signs were seen; and while Bost didn't get on the longball board early this time either he was still making plays. In fact he did get a three-point play, the traditional kind, less than three minutes after tipoff.

And after his team had fallen behind so far, it was the point guard stepping up, shooting long, and scoring big. "He's guard to guard when he's hitting that shot," said backcourt cohort Barry Stewart, who knows something about trey-making himself and hit a trio this evening also.

"What made him make some shots, you never know," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "But it's obvious Dee got going. He was in a rhythm, he shot with confidence, he attacked with confidence." By the time he was through Bost has posted a career-high output, as well as State's first 30-point effort of the season; and come within another trey of tying the school game-standard. And he accounted for five of his team's 11 overtime points.

"I guess I finally found it," he said.

As a result Auburn lost it. "Bost hurt us at the point position tonight. He was good," Tiger Coach Jeff Lebo said.

Stewart added 12 points to the Bulldog total and center Jarvis Varnado ten. Varnado had 12 rebounds, giving him a 15th double-double of the season and 30th of his career. He also became just the third Bulldog with 1,000 career points and rebounds both. But what might have stood out to Stansbury as much as the production from his starters was 21 points off the bench, divided among F Romero Osby (11) and G/F Phil Turner (10).

Guard Tay Waller set the Tigers' pace with 21 points, with five longballs, and forward Lucas Hargrove had 20 more. Guards DeWayne Reed and Sullivan scored 13 and 11 respectively. But Auburn scored only one overtime point, that on a free throw by Johnnie Lett.

"I thought we certainly played well enough to win the game," said Lebo. "Finishing out the game, we didn't do what we needed to do. And it was some tough breaks I thought at the end didn't go our way."

But for the first ‘quarter' of regulation a whole lot went the visiting team's way. Tipping off less than 48 hours after their Thursday home win over Ole Miss naturally was on MSU minds. Even knowledge that Arkansas had just lost didn't do much to spark State. "We didn't have a lot of energy in warm-ups, I could see we weren't ready to play," Varnado said. "They jumped out on us quick. But we got our composure and played hard."

Auburn just played harder, or at least shot somewhat better. Trailing 13-9 the Tigers, an outside-oriented squad, worked inside for a change and got baskets from Hargrove and center Brandon Knox. When State pulled in coverage Reed and Hargrove hung treys for a 23-13 lead. "They just hit us in the mouth," Stewart said. "They just went on a run." A runaway almost, as Waller used key-top picks to pop treys and make the margin 31-17. State was just 7-of-24 shooting at this point, 2-of-12 at the arc.

"They're a very difficult team to defend," Stansbury said. Fortunately Tigers were quite capable of missing long shots too, including five-straight attempts with every rebound snared by State. The home team began finding the open range outside as Stewart hit one trey and Bost followed with a pair, his first long strikes. The second came after AU's Reed had his dunk try stuffed by Varnado. Stewart's shot to tie missed but the deficit was down to 38-35 at halftime.

"Dee got us going, he made some shots," Stansbury said. "And our defense picked up. After that first 10, 12 minutes we were much better."

The Tigers missed on six-straight attempts at the arc opening the new half which allowed State to completely catch up and go ahead, naturally on a trey from Bost, at 14:22. The Dogs had lost a starter by now as wingman Ravern Johnson took a shot to the face and had to sit. This actually worked to MSU's advantage though as bigger forward Romero Osby proved a better defender and able to attack the goal inside stronger.

State worked ahead by 51-44, but Auburn changed offensive tacks and got inside the arc for shorter jumpers and baskets. In one six-minute span the lead changed sides of the scoreboard seven times with a couple of ties tossed in. For a brief stretch Waller was able to shed relentless defender Stewart for a trey, a rebound basket and a backdoor layup. Yet the Tigers couldn't get farther in front than one shot, and when Turner stripped Hargrove under one goal Osby was able to finish a break with a dunk and foul (the fifth on Knox) and free throw for a 74-72 lead at exactly thirty seconds.

Except instead of shooting for three Auburn's Reed drove inside for a tough, tying two. Stansbury called time at 9.3 seconds and Lebo used one of his own for good measure. Bost tried going all the way in only to have his scoop attempt knocked aside for a turnover. Auburn inbounded under MSU's goal at 2.1 ticks and had this been on the road an over-aggressive Turner would surely have been called for fouling Sullivan on his three-quarter-court heave. "I turned and saw it, I'm glad the referee didn't call that because he easily could have," said a relieved Stewart.

"We're going to look at it on film," Lebo said. "In-person I thought he (Turner) knocked him pretty hard." Of course only the officials' viewpoints mattered and this one was heading for extra innings.

Matched misses meant two scoreless overtime minutes until State got the bright idea of going to Varnado. He outworked Lett for the go-ahead basket at 2:53. "They wanted to double-me so I went to my best move, my jump-hook." At the other end a frustrated Waller absolutely forced his arc-attempt with Dogs in his face; it missed and Bost was able to slice the lane for a 78-74 margin, then come back at 66 seconds with an open trey that effectively settled things.

Auburn had been held to 37% shooting for the night and no overtime baskets. "We figured out what to do on the pick-and-roll, and our four-man played good defense on Hargrove," Bost said. "And Stew shut down Waller for the last few minutes."

For his part Stewart simply summarized: "We survived."

When the SEC released their schedule last fall, Bulldog eyes immediately looked at the current stretch of three games in six days. Not just because it is the longest homestand of the league season, but because it includes—or rather concludes with—the anticipated matchup with Kentucky. The Wildcats will be in The Hump for an 8:00 matchup of Division favorites. To their credit State players, even when prompted by impatient media, did not talk of the pending showdown.

Now, they can. "We've just got to keep it going," said Bost. "We've got a tough game Tuesday and we have to start preparing." Stansbury said those preparations won't be too demanding though, as his team is tired and needs the legs and minds fresh as possible by Tuesday.

"We'll have a walk-through tomorrow afternoon before the girl's game. We won't go very hard Sunday and Monday."

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