February 4, 2012 11:10:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- What we learned?
Guess What? Mississippi State (18-5, 5-3 in Southeastern Conference) learned it can win another tension-filled home game against a struggling opponent.
The 22nd-ranked Bulldogs were forced to hang on again at Humphrey Coliseum with a 91-88 victory over Auburn University thanks to making 60.4 percent of their shots. MSU's starters connected on 23-of-38 from the field and drained 8-for-12 from beyond the three-point arc. The Bulldogs are now 11-4 in games decided by 10 points or less.
The problem was consistent defensive lapses never allowed MSU to breathe easy throughout the entire contest. This MSU team has struggled being able to put together momentum against team they should be able to dominate.
Seemingly every single time MSU would get a dunk or three-pointer to arise the 7,853 in attendance, Auburn would beat the Bulldogs down the floor for two of its 14 fast break points or get a chance to shot two of its 36 free throws throughout the afternoon.
Coming into the Saturday afternoon contest, MSU had all three home conference victories by no more than a five-point margin. Following a three-point shot that beat the halftime buzzer, the 11-point home favorite were walking to the locker room after 20 minutes of play down 44-43.
Stansbury said in the postgame comments that the lackluster effort on the defensive end saying MSU was a "step slow" against an Auburn team that averaged just 55 points per game in league play but exploded for its largest offensive output of the 2011-12 season.
With 3:29 left in a tight Southeastern Conference battle, Bost had just as good a seat as anybody else at Humphrey Coliseum after he fouled out for the first time this season with 15 points and seven assists.
MSU might have learned that they can survive late game situations without the Bob Cousy Award winner as Brian Bryant was more than productive being just shy of a triple double with seven points, seven rebounds and a career-high nine assists in 32 minutes.
MSU sophomore guard Shaun Smith showcased an ability to fill a five to eight-minute role in that spot off the bench.
Smith, who had only seen action in three games before this weekend and none for more than 12 minutes, was one off his career high points total with five points.
"I thought Shaun Smith came off the bench and gave us some minutes," Stansbury said. "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."
The 6-foot-6 guard even hit a three-pointer from the wing to put the Bulldogs up 22-21 with 9:23 left in the first half. It's the most points for the Columbus native since getting six points and six
rebounds against North Carolina A&T on Dec. 12, 2010.
What we heard?
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury:
"We didn't separate it the way we needed to in the second half because of free throw shooting. We had a bunch of opportunities to stretch that thing out to 13 or 14 points if we just make some free throws. That's the pluses and minuses with (the break). When you change the rhythm some, it is good we had that rest. The opposite side of that is that it changes your routine and we didn't
defend everyday last week when we were off."
Auburn coach Tony Barbee:
"The shots that Bost made to start that second half were not only big shots but they were tough shots too trust me. When you're a good player, you make tough shots to get your momentum going. That held us off. "The only different about (this game compared to the rest of the season) was we made shots. Nothing changed with how we wanted to play. We made shots but we didn't defend."
Mississippi State senior guard Dee Bost:
"We get a big lead and I guess we let it slip sometimes. I'm getting tired of (close games)."
Mississippi State junior forward Arnett Moultrie:
"We learned tonight that when (Bost) goes out, we don't need to panic so it was good we came out with the victory."
What's next?: vs. Ole Miss (14-7, 4-3), 6 p.m., Feb. 9
It's Egg Bowl basketball style part two.
For the first time in four years, the then 18th-ranked Bulldogs walked away from Tad Smith Coliseum with a sour look on their face after facing the University of Mississippi.
The Rebels were content to allow point guard Jarvis Summers, who led the team by making 38.6 percent of his long-range attempts coming into Wednesday night, fire away from long distance as the freshman from Jackson finished with 12 points - half of which coming from the three-point shot.
Ole Miss frustrated Bulldogs junior forward Arnett Moultrie, a finalist for the John Wooden Award, as the transfer from the University of Texas at El Paso played all but four minutes of the first half but managed just two shots and two points heading into the locker room. Despite achieving his tenth double-double effort of the season, 10 points and 12 rebounds, the 6-foot-11 post presence had just two offensive rebounds and Rebels forward Murphy Holloway was forced to shoot from beyond 10 feet from the basket. MSU's double-double machine will have to have more offensive success for MSU to split the season series.
Reginald Buckner was the key for Kennedy securing his first win against MSU since 2009 after the junior from Memphis, Tenn., finished with a career-high 19 points and 15 rebounds and three blocks in 37 minutes of action.
As MSU (15-4, 2-2) attempts to maintain any hope of not only contending for an SEC championship but also secure a likely at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, it's the inability to steal victories away from Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville is seen a major black mark to its current portfolio in the 2011-12 season. All of those aspects to MSU right now have to be seen as unknowns going forward in the 2011-12 season.
In its first signs of offensive impatience this year, MSU settled for taking 29 shots from beyond the three-point arc with MSU only connecting on 10 of those attempts and a large total of those shots coming with no or one passes throughout the possession.
"They played a lot of zone......but yes that's a bunch of (three-point) shots," Stansbury said. "You got to come away with possessions where you're either getting fouled or something good. We left a couple get away on transition, that's for sure.
A major reason for the confusion on the offensive end was MSU guard Dee Bost being guarded by Henry either in man or at the top of Ole Miss' zone defense.
The length of the six-inch height advantage forced Bost to continue his offensive slump by forcing the Bulldogs senior leader to shoot just 4-for-15 and not covert a single two-point field goal the entire evening.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
4. Blowing through History BOOK REVIEWS