In a day filled with upsets and blowouts across the SEC, the No . 21 Auburn Tigers came close against the Mississippi State Bulldogs but ultimately prevailed 69-63 in front of a vintage Neville Arena crowd.
“69 points doesn't seem like a lot, but it is against Mississippi State,” said point guard Wendell Green, Jr. In 16 games this year, the Bulldogs’ scoring defense gave up just 56.5 points, which is ranked No. 5 in the entire country.
Jaylin Williams started hot for the Tigers with 15 points in the first half, including 13 of Auburn’s first 15 in the game. However, when the senior forward fouled out with 21 points on the night, Auburn’s offense appeared to be in trouble.
It was a tough night for the Tigers, with Allen Flanigan and Johni Broome managing just eight points combined in the entire second half as Mississippi State crawled back to within four points as Auburn needed an answer.
Without Williams on the floor and Chris Moore injured, Auburn utilized Lior Berman in crucial minutes, along with Allen Flanigan handling the inbounding duties.
“We had a crazy lineup out there late. We had Lior at the 3 and Al at the 4 and Johni at the 5, because Jaylin had fouled out,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.
In the end, Wendell Green, Jr. stepped up with a big-time three point shot to extend the lead to seven and scored 11 of the Tigers’ last 12 points to put away the Bulldogs. Green finished the game with 17 points, three assists and a team-leading four steals. He was also a perfect 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
“I'm experienced. Coach trusts me out there,” Green said. “My guys expect me to take care of the ball at the end of the game and make my free throws.”
The combo of Williams and Green was able to overcome a difficult night for the Tigers on offense, with 18 turnovers, foul trouble and Mississippi State punishing Auburn on the offensive glass 15-8.
That same foul trouble led to a significant free throw differential for the Bulldogs with 28 attempts to the Tigers’ 13 and 11 more made overall. This disparity allowed for Mississippi State to climb back into the game despite a nonexistent night from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs, who have a three-point shooting percentage of 30% on the year, went 0-18 from downtown and managed just two points from outside the paint and free throw line.
Despite the issues outside, Mississippi State’s offense was clicking in the paint with senior forward Tolu Smith finishing the night with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Smith, one of three Bulldogs in double figures, won the matchup with Johni Broome, getting the Auburn big-man in foul trouble and holding him to six points on the night.
The Tigers, winners of 28-straight at home will have to hit the road this week, traveling down to Baton Rouge for a Wednesday clash with the Bayou Bengals. The matchup with LSU, losers of four straight, will tip-off at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN2.
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