January 15, 2011 11:45:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State''s men''s basketball team got the emotional lift it needed Thursday when it beat Ole Miss.
Channeling that energy and getting repeat performances from Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney are MSU''s next steps.
Expectations are high for the Bulldogs today, as struggling Auburn enters Humphrey Coliseum for a 2 p.m. start (Fox Sports South).
Bost scored 25 points and had eight assists against the Rebels, needing just two games to get back to his form of last season.
Sidney shouldered the national criticism he''s received after the fallout of his fight in Hawaii with 24 points and a season-high 33 minutes.
MSU head coach Rick Stansbury called the win "sweet," considering the Bulldogs had lost five of six and made their road to the NCAA tournament difficult.
"I''m just happy for these guys right now, to fight through some things, stay together and keep believing," Stansbury said in Oxford. "If there''s ever a teaching point in life, there it is again."
MSU''s positive response to adversity included Sidney shaking off Oxford hecklers -- his temperament had been a question mark -- and staying out of foul trouble, which plagued his first two performances.
Bost gave MSU the leadership and productivity it had been missing at point guard this season. Any signs of fatigue were minimal, as he displayed the same quickness and lift he had in his first two seasons.
Stansbury also got a workmanlike performance from forward Kodi Augustus, who grabbed 14 boards and made four free throws in the final minute against the Rebs.
Stats aside, Stansbury knew his team couldn''t play with the same attentiveness it did against Alabama.
"Believe it or not now, our kids came up here with two things in mind: play with some heart and play with no fear," Stansbury said. "It''s very obvious, we had some fear last game (against Alabama). For all the reasons involved.
"I never felt from the minute we left that locker room that we had any fear in us."
Part of Bost''s impact in his return to lineup is his ability to create open looks for teammates, which is a welcome sign for struggling shooter Ravern Johnson.
Johnson was 3 of 16 from the floor against Alabama and 2 of 7 against Ole Miss. Johnson once led the league in scoring, but has seen his average dip to 18.3 points per game.
"We know that he''s not a person that''s going to create his own shot, so like I said, that''s part of me getting him an easy shot," Bost said. "Once we feed it to Sid or Kodi on the block, then it opens up other stuff. They kick out, and there''s wide-open shots for him."
The Tigers (7-9, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) have struggled to score in their two conference losses, posting six first-half points against LSU and 21 in the first half to Kentucky.
"We play together, we play unselfish, we play hard, we scrap, we fight," Barbee said after Auburn''s loss to UK. "We just right now are not on the same level talent-wise as (Kentucky.) And it''s going to take some time to build it up."
Auburn, however, has won three of the last four meetings against MSU. The Bulldogs escaped the Tigers with an 82-80 overtime win at Humphrey Coliseum last season but fell to the Tigers in the final game at Beard Eaves Coliseum.
There''s added expectation for a Bulldogs'' win today, as Humphrey Coliseum is set to host its 500th men''s game since opening on Dec. 1, 1975.
The Bulldogs own a 361-138 record in the venue and are 7-3 this season.
Kermit Davis, who oversaw the move from old McCarthy Gym to the Hump, will present the game ball to the officials before the tip. Davis coached the Bulldogs from 1971-77.