Sometimes a team just can’t win the easy way.
Saturday was just one of those days for the No. 22 ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs as they held on to defeat the Auburn Tigers 91-88 in the Humphrey Coliseum.
The Bulldogs shot a scorching 60.4 percent from the floor including 12-of-19 from 3-point range, but couldn’t pull way from Auburn (13-10, 3-6).
“Offensively, it wasn’t a problem, shooting 60 something percent and scoring 91 points,” said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury. “Defensively, we didn’t lock in and take care of some things like we needed to. We didn’t separate it the way we needed to in the second half because of free-throw shooting.”
Varez Wade, who led the Tigers with 24 points, was able to get inside the MSU defense and attack the rim. The Tigers out-scored the Bulldogs in the paint 42-28 courtesy of their guard play.
Well-rested after the midweek break, the Bulldogs appeared to be out of sync defensive and that’s something that Stansbury attributed to the time off and change in routine.
“That’s the pluses and minuses with (having time off) when you change the rhythm some, but it is good we had that rest,” Stansbury said of his team’s defense that allowed Auburn to score more than 30 over their season average. “We backed off of them from the practice standpoint both physically and mentally. The opposite side of that is it changes your routine and we didn’t defend everyday last week when we were off.”
On the positive side of the ledger, the Bulldogs were productive on the offensive end with five players scoring in double figures. Arnett Moultrie led the way with 21 points followed by Renardo Sidney with 17 points. The Bulldogs bigs were able to take advantage of the smaller Tigers around the basket.
Dee Bost, who fouled out for the first time in 68 games, turned in 15 points and was a part of the tandem of point guards that combined for 16 assists. Brian Bryant, the second part of the duo, had a career-high nine assists while scoring seven points.
Jalen Steele continued to shoot well from the outside shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and scoring 13 points.
State also got seven valuable minutes from guard, Shaun Smith. The sophomore gave an undermanned squad the time they needed to spell follow guard and cover for Bost once he fouled out with just under 5 minutes remaining.
“I thought Shaun Smith came off the bench and gave us some minutes,” Stansbury said. “He hasn’t been playing any and played 7 minutes and gave us five points. We don’t have a lot of bodies so anytime we can buy a couple of minutes that’s good for us. Shaun stepped to the free-throw line and made a couple of free throws late in the game.”
No matter the difficulties getting the win, in the SEC, a win is a win and in the eyes of Stansbury that’s all that matters.
“In this league, you take the win and you move on and get ready for the next one," Stansbury said.
The next one will come next Thursday when in-state rivals Ole Miss comes calling in what promises to be a great SEC affair.