After what seemed like workmanlike effort in dispatching of a clearly inferior Auburn team, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury laughed at the idea his team was having more fun.
He could look up at the scoreboard and realized the answer immediately.
“It’s easy to have fun when you have a big lead,” MSU’s 13-year head coach said. “There hadn’t been many fun games here up to this point. They’ve all been real tight.”
Mississippi State rolled out to a 22-3 lead early on and never led by less than 12 the rest of the afternoon in a dominating 85-66 victory in front of an unusually excited 6,794 people at Humphrey Coliseum.
“It is important because we knew we needed it and we had been going backwards,” MSU junior point guard Dee Bost said. “Every game counts.”
Before the game, former MSU coach Kermit Davis was presented the game ball to mark the 500th men’s basketball game played in Humphrey Coliseum.
In 1975, Davis coached the first Mississippi State squad in the Bulldogs’ current home arena to a victory over Indiana State.
Auburn, who came in with the Southeastern Conference’s worst offense averaging just 63.9 points per game, started off the contest missing 11 of its first 12 three-point shots and drew iron on eight of 13 from the foul line.
“Offensively, we're challenged,” Auburn head coach Tony Barbee said. “It's a broken record, but I keep saying it over and over. We have trouble shooting it, we have trouble making layups, we have trouble throwing it to the post and getting any production.”
Sunday marked the return of consistent offensive play from senior wing Ravern Johnson as the 6-foot-7 catch-and-shoot player got four of his eight total baskets on either dunks or layups from point-blank range to allow for his month-long shooting slump to come back around.
The Lyon native came in making only 28 percent from the field over the last six games but led the Bulldogs (10-7, 2-1 in SEC play) in scoring with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting.
“Going to the rim and dunking does boost my confidence up so hopefully everything get back in the groove and feel like my old self again,” Johnson said.
If not for a inconsequential three-pointer at the buzzer by point guard Josh Wallace, Auburn (7-10, 0-3) would have had only one starter in double figures (Earnest Wallace led the Tigers with 15 points).
“You can't keep putting yourself behind the 8 ball with a lack of offense against such good teams,” Barbee said. “We're just limited.”
Mississippi State sophomore forward Renardo Sidney made up for his forgettable Humphrey Coliseum debut last weekend against Alabama by trying to get his teammates involved early on Sunday. The 6-foot-10 post threat actually had more assists (3) throughout the first 20 minutes than field goal attempts (2).
“He affected the game,” Stansbury said. “When you can affect the game in other ways than the ones you know you can do, the team will be much better.”
Sidney finished the game with 15 points, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 22 minutes on the floor.
For the third straight game since his return from suspension, Sidney was made unavailable to the media after the contest due to a coaches’ decision.
To make matters worse for Barbee and his program, he was forced to a former Auburn commitment in Bulldogs guard Jalen Steele rack up 10 points off the bench during a critical time where the Tigers were looking to make a second-half run.
“He is not a guy who is afraid to play and the way he played down the stretch is exactly what I expect out of him,” Stansbury said.
Coming out of Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tenn., Steele had given a verbal commitment to Auburn but after Tigers athletic director Jay Jacobs decided to replace head coach Jeff Lebo with Barbee, he reopened his recruiting and ended up signing with Mississippi State.
“I’ve been waiting for it since last year when (Lebo) got fired,” Steele said. “The new coach said he didn’t know how to play me and I couldn’t go play for a coach that didn’t know how to use me.”
The victory for State put them in a four-way tie for first place in the Western Division with Alabama, Arkansas and LSU heading into the second week of conference play.
"We’ve been having hard practices and everybody is getting on the same page,’ Johnson said.
The Bulldogs will have a week of practice time before traveling to Georgia (13-3, 2-1) for a key league matchup Saturday.