Mississippi State guard Craig Sword (32) dunks the ball as Auburn forward Alex Thompson (20) looks on during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Nas
Mark Humphrey
March 11, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Auburn coach Bruce Pearl reminded his Tigers of just how long it's been since their program had won at the Southeastern Conference tournament. They also hadn't won a game - period - since Valentine's Day.

The Tigers ended both skids Wednesday night.

K.C. Ross-Miller scored 21 points, and Auburn beat Mississippi State 74-68 in the opener for the Tigers' first SEC tournament win since 2009 while snapping a six-game skid.

''We're still here, and that's a step in the right direction,'' first-year coach Pearl said.

The 13th-seeded Tigers (13-19) hadn't won since edging Georgia on Feb. 14. Now they will play No. 5 seed Texas A&M on Thursday afternoon.

''It feels amazing,'' Auburn senior KT Harrell said. ''You lose a lot of close games, a lot of tough ones, and when you finally get to pull it out, especially here in the tournament, it's an amazing feeling. Coach told us to celebrate for a little while, but be ready to play tomorrow. So we will.''

Harrell finished 19 points for Auburn, and reserve Alex Thompson scored a career-high 16 points, hitting all three 3-pointers.

Craig Sword scored 21 points for No. 12-seeded Mississippi State (13-19). I.J. Ready added 18.

''I thought we could take the next step in the program here and have a chance to win a couple ballgames here at the SEC tournament,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. ''The past couple years we won our first game and went on to lose our second game. But I was looking forward to hopefully continuing to stay here and winning more games.''

Mississippi State rallied after trailing by 11 points and last led 65-64 on a dunk by Sword with 4:17 left. The Bulldogs hit only one more shot down the stretch as Auburn finished the game on a 10-3 run.

Auburn took control right before the buzzer at the end of the first half. Harrell ended a 10-2 run by Mississippi State with a 3 to pull the Tigers within 36-34 at halftime. Auburn picked up where it left off, outscoring the Bulldogs 22-9 to start the second half.

Ross-Miller hit two free throws capping the spurt with 11:37 left, giving Auburn its biggest lead at 56-45. The Bulldogs finally started clicking again and reeled off a 16-3 run with Ready's jumper putting Mississippi State up 61-59 with 7:09 to go.

The teams swapped the lead back and forth before Harrell's layup with 3:45 left gave Auburn the lead for good. Ross-Miller scored the final five points for Auburn.



Auburn: The Tigers' last SEC tournament win came against Florida in 2009. .. Pearl improved to 6-3 all-time against Mississippi State and 7-6 all-time in this tournament.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs hadn't played Auburn in this tournament since 1996 when they won the title, and they reached the championship the last time the SEC tournament was played at Bridgestone Arena in 2010. ... They finish 4-7 in SEC games decided by six points or less. ... They also went 10-6 when leading at the half with all six losses in SEC games.

MASON PLAYS: Auburn guard Antoine Mason played for the first time since Feb. 24. His father, former NBA forward Anthony Mason died at age 48 on Feb. 28. Mason is Auburn's second-leading scorer averaging 15.1 points. He rejoined the Tigers on Sunday and scored four points.


The Tigers are the SEC's best at getting to the free throw line, and they got Mississippi State into serious foul trouble early with five Bulldogs with two fouls each by halftime. Sword wound up playing only nine minutes of the first half after getting his second. That gave Auburn a huge edge at the free throw line for the game (22 of 34) compared to Mississippi State (15 of 19).

''It was terrible,'' Sword said of getting his second foul so early in the first half. ''I hurt my team. I can't take it back. If I could, I would.''


Auburn: Texas A&M on Thursday afternoon.

Mississippi State: Season completed.

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