March 3, 2010
Waller scored 22 points and Knox had 21 to lead Auburn to an 89-80 win over Mississippi State on Wednesday night in a game when the five seniors accounted for all but 11 of the Tigers' points.
It was the final game at 42-year-old Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum for Auburn (15-15, 6-9 Southeastern Conference), which moves across the street to the $90 million Auburn Arena next season.
"To go out on senior night in the last game in the arena was big," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "I was really dreading this game. I wanted to win this so bad for them and to send the arena out the right way."
Waller stayed hot, making 6 of 11 3-pointers and collecting seven rebounds. He has averaged 26 points and made 27 3s over the past four games and Auburn has won three of them.
"He's a heck of a shooter as it is, but when you have all that emotion, too, and making those shots, that basket gets big," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He's one of the best shooters in the country right now down the stretch."
The Bulldogs (21-9, 9-6), who have already clinched a share of the SEC West title, cut a 10-point deficit in half over the final 3 minutes. But the 3s finally stopped falling after Dee Bost scored all 25 of his points in the second half.
Bost also had eight assists and went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, but Mississippi State couldn't give its NCAA tournament hopes a boost. Stansbury was more worried about the regular-season finale with No. 16 Tennessee.
"It has nothing to do with it," he said of the team's tournament hopes. "I think we've got to go home and beat Tennessee. that's the only thing that matters right now."
The Bulldogs had won five of the last seven meetings with Auburn.
The seniors were honored before the game and the arena got its due with former players and coaches being honored on the court and a video montage playing on the scoreboard.
"I had a lot of people tell me they didn't want to go home sad because it was the last game played (here)," Waller said. "I'm just glad we sent them home happy."
Barry Stewart added 18 points and made four 3s for the Bulldogs. Ravern Johnson scored 16 and Jarvis Varnado had 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
He and fellow post player Kodi Augustus spent much of the second half in foul trouble.
The Bulldogs cut a 10-point deficit in half when Bost's drive to the basket made it 85-80 with 44 seconds left, but he missed the subsequent free throw.
Mississippi State quickly fouled Hargrove, who hit both shots to effectively put the game away.
Bost attempted only two shots in the first half and missed both. But he kept the Bulldogs in the game after that by accounting for all but 18 of their second-half points with an array of drives and 3s.
Auburn pushed its lead to 78-68 when Reed fired a long pass to Knox for an uncontested dunk with 3:21 left. That capped a 13-3 run after the Bulldogs had tied the score.
"As he started scoring a lot, Varnado picked up four fouls," Waller said. "He's their only defensive presence in the paint. Once we neutralized that, it was easy for Knox to score."
Knox, a 51-percent foul shooter, hit four straight free throws in the final 2 minutes to help keep the lead secure.
The league's two most prolific 3-point shooting teams lived up to that billing. Mississippi State attempted 33, making 12. Auburn was 11-for-24.
The Tigers tried 20 more free throws, making 18 of 31.
Auburn shot 63 percent (19 of 32) and committed only one turnover in the first half to build a 46-37 lead.
Waller also contributed his most impressive shot of the game halfway through, when he caught an inbounds pass with 1 second on the shot clock, spun and nailed a 3.
The Tigers cooled off in the second half, shooting 42 percent (11 of 26) to score the second most points for Auburn against an SEC opponent this season, behind the 92 they scored against Arkansas.
"I didn't think the first half we had the edge," Stansbury said. "It was very obvious the first half Auburn had it for sure. The second half I thought our kids played with the aggression you've got to play with. Every time we tied it up in the second half, they knocked down huge shots."