STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – Mississippi State won its third-straight SEC home game with an 82-74 win against Auburn Wednesday.
The Bulldogs improved to 13-5 overall and 3-2 in conference play, while the Tigers fell to 8-8 and 0-5. MSU has won 13 of the past 14 series meetings at home, including five straight.
“This was a good win for our program and our team,” MSU coach Rick Ray said. “I am happy with how we handled adversity tonight. We have played two games without our best passer and decision-maker (IJ Ready) and then tonight we had two starters with foul trouble (Gavin Ware and Craig Sword).
“We had so many errors on the defensive end down the stretch. However, we made free throws.”
The Bulldogs again struggled out the gate. Down 15-6, MSU righted the ship and began to plug away. The Bulldogs were within five on two free throws by Roquez Johnson. Johnson followed with an old-fashioned 3-point play.
MSU finally grabbed the lead on a 3-point basket by Colin Borchert, placing the Maroon and White on top 25-23. The Bulldogs scored the final six points of the half, including a steal and dunk by Sword as the half expired, creating a 34-25 lead.
In the opening half, the Bulldogs shot 48.1 percent from the floor and end the half on a 20-4 run.
“The most important thing about that run is we got defensive stops on 10 of 12 possessions on the defensive end,” Ray said.
The Bulldogs ran the lead to double digits for the first time at 40-30 with 15:31 left in the contest. The lead pushed to 10 again at 51-41 with 10:23 left in the contest.
“We play with a lot more confidence at home,” Borchert said. “I think we practice here, we play here, we used to the rims. We did a really good job on the offensive end. The big thing is everybody contributed.”
Auburn battled back with an 8-0 run. However, the Tigers never took a second-half lead. In the game’s final half, the Bulldogs outscored the Tigers 18-0 off the bench.
The Bulldogs led 59-58 when Tyson Cunningham entered and gave the team a spark. Cunningham hit two free throws and on the following possession hit a back-breaking 3-point basket. The former Columbus High standout then drew a charge, capping a game-changing minute of play.
“Coach always says be ready when you go in,” Cunningham said. “I was in the right spots at the right times to help my team out, so you feel really good about that. I was just hoping to help us get a win.”
The Bulldogs stretched the lead at the free throw line, as they hit 31-of-43 shots from the foul line, including a 10-of-16 night from Johnson.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 22 of 44 shots from the field (50.0 percent), 7 of 18 shots from 3-point range (38.9 percent) and 31 of 43 shots from the foul line (72.1 percent). The Tigers hit 28 of 58 shots from the field (48.3 percent), 6 of 21 shots from 3-point range (28.6 percent) and 12 of 13 shots from the foul line (92.3 percent).
Auburn held a 32-27 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 16 assists and nine turnovers, while the Tigers had 11 assists and 13 rebounds.
Borchert led MSU with 17 points, while Fred Thomas had 14 points and Trivante Bloodman had 13 points.
Auburn received 24 points from KT Harrell and 17 points from Tahj Shamsid-Deen. The Tigers also got double-doubles from Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Allen Payne (12 points, 10 rebounds).
MSU returns to action Saturday at Ole Miss. The Bulldogs and Rebels tip at 3 p.m., and the game will be regionally telecast by The SEC Network.