STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – There’s no better way to end the regular season than with a victory, and Mississippi State did just that Saturday evening.
Colin Borchert hit the game-tying 3-point basket toward the end of regulation and Roquez Johnson provided the big lift in overtime as Mississippi State knocked off Auburn 74-71 in the regular season finale for each team.
“I am really happy with our guys and how they found a way to gut out this win,” MSU head coach Rick Ray said. “You look at the minutes with only six scholarship players; Trivante Bloodman has to have a third lung, because he just played so hard for 39 minutes. Craig Sword did some really good things for us, as far as the assist to turnover ratio, which was a positive.
“You look at Colin Borchert who had 10 rebounds in the first half and finished with double-double. Just finding a way to gut out a win and to go in the locker room to see so many people happy. You read some things where they say we are the worst team in SEC history, so I guess we can’t be that if we finished 13th out of 14.”
With the victory, the Bulldogs secured the 13th seed in this week’s Southeastern Conference tournament. MSU will face South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in an opening-round game at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Wednesday’s first session of the event will be regionally televised by Fox Sports Net South and available in some markets on Comcast Sports Southeast.
For MSU, the victory came on Senior Day for former walk-on Baxter Price. Given a scholarship this season, Price logged more playing time in the second half of the season as injuries began to mount. In his final game wearing the Maroon and White, Price played three minutes.
With the win, MSU improved to 9-21 overall and 4-14 in league play. Auburn fell to 9-22 and 3-15. The contest was nip-and-tuck throughout, with 14 ties and 17 lead changes.
Borchert, the former East Mississippi Community College standout, posted his first double-double at MSU with 20 points and 13 rebounds. For MSU, it was the fourth double-double this season. Craig Sword added 19 points, while Fred Thomas and Roquez Johnson each added 10 points apiece.
MSU started out strong and built an early 12-5 lead. A 3-pointer by Borchert ran the Bulldogs to that advantage with 14:45 left in the first half. Auburn closed within 14-9 before reeling off a 13-2 run to take a 21-16 lead.
The Bulldogs were having a slight lull in offensive production and the Tigers duo of Allen Payne and Chris Denson were taking advantage.
Still, MSU hung tough by playing rock-solid defense. The Bulldogs closed down the pain and got back within two on a Roquez Johnson layup with 2:28 left in the half.
MSU shot 37 percent in the first half and was deadlocked with Auburn at 24 at halftime.
In the second half, both teams found a new offensive level.
“I was wondering where our offense was going to come from, because we struggled so much in the first half,” Ray said. “To our guys’ credit, we did a good job defensively in the first half. We ran some ball-screen actions with Craig Sword up top early and he got into the lane and created offense for himself. He got to the foul line and just broke down the defense right away.”
The Bulldogs streaked out to a 40-36 advantage on another 3-pointer by Borchert. The teams were later tied at 44 and 46. Auburn took advantage of three different and-one situations to remain in a tight contest.
Over the final 14:27 of the second half, neither team enjoyed more than a 3-point advantage. The Bulldogs did not aid themselves at the free throw line, where they were 10-of-17 in the second half and 16-of-29 at the free throw line.
Johnson split two different free throw opportunities for a 62-60 lead. Auburn grabbed a 63-62 lead on a 3-point play by Denson. Borchert forced the overtime with a long-range 3-point make with 18 seconds left in overtime.
In the extra frame, the Bulldogs grabbed a 71-69 lead on a Thomas 3-pointer with 2:21 left. Sword later broke a 71-71 tie with two free throws after being fouled on a shot attempt with 34 seconds left in regulation.
A key block by Johnson foiled Auburn’s last attempt to tie. Johnson again hit 1-of-2 free throws to seal out back-to-back home wins for MSU to end the regular season.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 25 of 62 shots from the field (40.3 percent), 8 of 17 shots from 3-point range (47.1 percent) and 16 of 29 shots from the foul line (55.2 percent). The Tigers hit 28 of 68 shots from the field (41.2 percent), 3 of 17 shots from 3-point range (17.6 percent) and 12 of 15 shots from the foul line (80 percent).
MSU held a 46-42 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 17 turnovers, while the Tigers had 13 assists and 14 turnovers.
Auburn received 24 points from Denson, 18 points from Rob Chubb and 12 points from Frankie Sullivan.