February 27, 2009
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State men''s basketball coach Rick Stansbury is careful not to place too much importance on Saturday''s home matchup against Auburn.
Leaking through his coachspeak is an indication of where the Auburn game, a 5 p.m. start (Fox Sports Net South) at Humphrey Coliseum, ranks on his radar.
"It''s a meaningful game, as all of them are this time of the year," Stansbury said. "At the end of 16 games, all that works itself out. This game is not the determining game in all that
"It''s an important game for both teams. It''s important because it is the next one and it is against someone we are battling in the West."
Mississippi State (17-11) and Auburn (18-10) are tied for second in the Southeastern Conference Western Division with 7-6 records.
Auburn holds the upper hand because it beat MSU 91-76 on Feb. 14.
It is key to finish second in the West to capture a bye and an extra day of rest for the SEC tournament.
Even though the Tigers can take a huge step in securing that position by beating the Bulldogs again, coach Jeff Lebo is taking the same path as Stansbury and isn''t talking about one game making or breaking a season.
"It''s a big game with a lot on the line, but there is still too much basketball left to be played with a lot of different scenarios," Lebo said. "I tell (the team) all the time to focus on the task at hand and stay in the moment. That''s what we have to do."
Lebo might not want to look ahead, but he has to be pleased with Auburn when he evaluates the past.
The Tigers have won five of their past six games. The only loss in that stretch is to Western Division champion LSU 79-72.
"We''ve got some confidence," Lebo said. "I don''t think we''ve carried ourselves any differently. We''ve been pretty workmanlike when we''ve played well and, at times, when we''ve not played well. That''s what you''ve got to do. It''s a long hard season, but our demeanor has been pretty consistent and our leadership has been pretty solid with seniors Rasheem Barrett, Korvotney Barber, and Cortez Robertson."
DeWayne Reed leads Auburn in scoring at 13.4 points per game, while Barber averages 12.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per outing. Barber is second in the SEC in rebounding and has 100 offensive rebounds.
Tay Waller, who lit up MSU for 32 points in the first meeting, averages 12.8 ppg.
"Auburn is playing as well as anybody in the league," Stansbury said. "Jeff has done a great job of bringing his team along and keeping them focused."
On the other hand, the Bulldogs have lost four of their past five games. Stansbury insists a lack of effort hasn''t been the problem.
"Our kids have played hard," Stansbury said. "It''s been a breakdown here or there being the difference of winning games. You don''t have time to let it take a toll on you. That''s easier said than done, but you''ve got to put it behind you."
Despite MSU''s struggles, it still has four players scoring in double figures -- junior center Jarvis Varnado (13.1 ppg.), sophomore guard Ravern Johnson (12.6 ppg.), junior guard Barry Stewart (11.9 ppg.), and freshman point guard Dee Bost (11.5 ppg.).
Lebo knows it has been different for Stansbury playing primarily a four-guard lineup.
"Rick has done a good job of playing a different style," Lebo said. "Their ability to shoot the ball and to score inside with Varnado gives a lot of teams trouble."
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