February 11, 2011 9:17:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State point guard Dee Bost made one thing clear following his team''s win against the University of Arkansas: The Bulldogs are thinking beyond winning the Southeastern Conference''s Western Division.
While MSU might seem like a long shot given its off-the-court struggles and 13-10 record, it is just two and a half games behind Southeastern Conference overall leader Alabama.
The Bulldogs also are one of four teams with a 5-4 league record. They will have a chance to improve that mark and extend their winning streak to three games at 6 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports Net) when they play at Auburn.
"Every game is needed from here on out," Bost said, "not just for second place in the West -- you got to keep fighting for overall SEC. The West, it means something to us, but SEC outright, we just got to keep fighting."
The next four games give MSU a favorable path toward its league goal. It has beaten three of those teams this season, and two of the games -- against Ole Miss and LSU -- are at home.
The Bulldogs aren''t free from concern, though.
Bost continues to work his way through a strained Achilles'' tendon. He scored 18 points and had three assists in a 67-56 win against Arkansas. The junior point guard also had a bone graft Thursday to repair two front teeth that were knocked loose in a loss to Vanderbilt on Jan. 27.
Ravern Johnson is still on indefinite suspension, and MSU coach Rick Stansbury said it''s "way too soon" to re-evaluate the senior''s playing status.
Riley Benock played 22 minutes Wednesday with a bruised shoulder. He''s confident the Marcain and steroid shot he received will help his shoulder improve in time for Saturday.
The treatment worked enough to turn his status from "unavailable" according to Stansbury, to being in the game three minutes in.
Benock didn''t attempt a shot against Arkansas.
"I felt all right, but it was something where I was trying to get passes to other people or something in close before I get my own shot," Benock said. "I felt like tonight was a questionable game, and Saturday I feel like I''ll be good. And even the doc said the shot, if I couldn''t play tonight, it''d help for Saturday."
Benock wasn''t sure if his performance had an uplifting effect on the team, and chalked up the win to "being prepared."
However, teammate Jalen Steele has taken notice of how Benock and Bost have played through injuries and tried to lead the team through its distractions.
"You see it in practice, too," Steele said. "Those guys are great to learn from, especially with everything we''ve been through. There''s going to be some good that comes of all this."
MSU will look to have a similar defensive effort against Auburn (8-15, 1-8) as it had in a 85-66 win in January. The Bulldogs blocked 10 shots and held the Tigers to 35.6 percent shooting.
In MSU''s five league wins, it has held opponents to an average of 61.4 points per game. In the Bulldogs'' four losses, opponents have averaged 79.25.
That trend is a good omen ahead of today''s game, as Auburn is shooting 39 percent and scoring just 63.4 points per game, which ranks 298th in the country.
The Tigers have struggled even more at home in league play (52 ppg.).
Auburn coach Tony Barbee hopes a week off from competition will help his team move past the "timid" play it displayed against the University of Tennessee and help it play like it did in an overtime loss to Georgia.
The Tigers will be without center Rob Chubb, who is suspended. He was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, attempting to elude a police officer, and resisting arrest stemming from an incident Jan. 30.
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