Feb. 18, 2012
AUBURN - Frankie Sullivan scored 19 points, Kenny Gabriel had 15 points and nine rebounds and Varez Wardadded 10 points and nine assists as Auburn defeated No. 23 Mississippi State 65-55 on Saturday in Auburn Arena.
"The week off came at a great time for us," Auburn head coach Tony Barbee said. "We were struggling mentally and physically. Being able to give these guys three and a half days off served us in a big way, because we got our legs back. Everybody got refreshed, and it showed. We still had some breakdowns all over the floor, but what I have been talking about with this team is continuing to fight. No matter what takes place, you have to keep fighting. That is a great lesson served, because our team fought tonight. They made a run and we weren't making shots, but we continued to fight. It doesn't guarantee a win, but if you don't fight, it is probably going to guarantee you that you lose."
The win was Auburn's first against a ranked opponent since a 69-53 win over No. 11 LSU on March 7, 2009.
"[Beating a ranked team] just means that we can play with anybody if we play that hard, physical and tough," Gabriel said. "That's what coach has been trying to get us to do the last couple of games. He's been telling us that we've been playing that way for the first 35 minutes of the game, but then the last five minutes of the game we've been breaking down. Tonight, we showed that if we play for a full 40 minute game that we can play with anybody."
Two free throws by Arnett Moultrie closed Mississippi State (19-8, 6-6) to within 53-50 with five minutes remaining. Dee Bost then missed a 3-pointer that would've tied the game, and Gabriel converted a three-point play after a huge Rob Chubboffensive rebound on Gabriel's missed 3-pointer as Auburn (14-12, 4-8) stretched the lead back to 56-50 with 3:13 to go.
The Tigers ended the game on a 12-5 run after Mississippi State closed to within three points. Auburn hit 6-of-6 free throws in the final 48 seconds to seal the victory.
Mississippi State scored the first seven points of the game over four minutes before Auburn scored on a Gabriel basket. A 3-pointer by Allen Payne followed by a dunk from Adrian Forbesclosed Auburn to within two, 16-14, with 9:13 left in the first half.
Ward scored two in the paint to tie the game and Chris Denson'scoast-to-coast layup gave Auburn its first lead at 18-16 with 6:30 to go before halftime, and the Tigers never trailed after that. The Tigers extended it to an 11-0 run for a 20-16 lead with 5:30 left.
A fast break feed from Ward to Gabriel for a three-point play gave the Tigers a 23-16 lead and continued the run. After an acrobatic two by Ward in the lane made it a 16-0 run, Mississippi State broke a six-minute scoreless stretch on a jumper by Bost that left Auburn in the lead 27-18 with 3:40 before the half.
A free throw by Sullivan and a layup by Ward in the final 10 seconds of the half capped a 26-8 run for Auburn over the last nine minutes of the first half as it took a 35-24 lead into the break.
Mississippi State dropped the Auburn lead down to just five points only four minutes into the second half, but Auburn battled back. Ward's long two pushed the Tigers' advantage back to double-figures, 46-36, with 12 minutes to play.
In two games against Mississippi State this season, Gabriel totaled 37 points and 20 rebounds.
After missing their first six shots, Auburn connected on 15-of-22 in the first half, and shot 53.6 percent for the opening half. The Tigers ended the game shooting 47.2 percent from the field while the Bulldogs shot just 35.2 percent.
Moultrie had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds to lead Mississippi State and Bost added 11 points.
Auburn is in action next on Tuesday at 6 p.m. CT at Florida. The game will be televised by ESPNU.