Mississippi State handles Auburn 79-66
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State freshmen Malik Newman and Quinndary Weatherspoon combined for 33 points en route to a 79-66 win over Auburn in the regular season SEC finale for both teams on Saturday.
Newman scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half while Weatherspoon added 16 points and six rebounds. Mississippi State senior Craig Sword scored all of his 11 points in the second half. Gavin Ware notched his ninth double-double of the season for the Bulldogs (14-16, 7-11) with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
"Overall, it was a good win for us," said Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland. "I thought our defense in the first half was fantastic or we would've been down because of our inability to score early in the game. I was very proud of our seniors and they have done an incredible job.
"And this win gives us some momentum and we have momentum now. Our defense has improved so much and it gives our guys a boost of confidence going into (the SEC Tournament)."
Auburn (11-19, 5-13) was led by TJ Lang's 16 points, while Tyler Harris and Horace Spencer had 13 points apiece for the Tigers. Cinmeon Bowers also finished with a double-double adding 11 boards and 10 points for the Tigers.
The Bulldogs led by 19 at halftime.
Mississippi State shot 41.9 percent from the field and made 11 of 25 3-point attempts. Weatherspoon and Newman were a combined 7 of 10 on three-pointers.
Auburn shot 42.4 percent and the Tigers were 7 of 19 from beyond the arc and 9 of 16 at the free throw line. Both teams had 16 turnovers and Mississippi State's bench held a decisive 45-16 advantage over Auburn's bench scoring.
"I really like Mississippi State's team and I have all year," said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. "It has taken them awhile to play their best basketball. But if you look at their early league schedule it is no surprise it took them awhile. They are a dangerous team going into the tournament and in a way, I will kinda be rooting for them.
"I like Gavin Ware a lot and how he comes to work every day. Sword is in a good place right now attacking and I.J. Ready is running the ship. They are a good team that is capable of making a run."
Mississippi State held a double-digit lead for most of the second half only to see Auburn get within nine at 52-43 with 12:08 to go. The Bulldogs quickly responded with a 14-2 run and Auburn never got closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
Auburn jumped to an early 8-0 lead in the first half and took advantage of Mississippi State's miscues in the first ten minutes of the game. The Bulldogs had seven turnovers in the first eight minutes of action and missed 12 of their first 14 shots of the game.
"That was an incredible slow start," said Howland. "We didn't have our normal starting lineup and we were trying to start all of our seniors. I felt like we sped up too much and didn't play our best. But our freshmen came in and really played well for us."
After that dry spell it was all Mississippi State in the first half. Trailing 13-11 midway through the first half, the Bulldogs exploded on 25-7 run. Newman led the charge in that run with 12 points and was 6 of 6 from the field in the opening half.
Auburn shot just 27.6 percent in the first half and committed eight turnovers. Mississippi State ended up shooting 46.7 percent in the first half and controlled the backboards with a 25-15 margin.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs collected their seventh SEC win on Saturday and it marks the most for the Bulldogs since the 2011-12 season. Malik Newman now has 60 3-pointers on the season, which ranks second among Mississippi State freshmen in school history. The Bulldogs have won nine of their last 11 games on Senior Day.
Auburn: The Tigers have now lost six straight at Humphrey Coliseum and 14 of the last 15. The Tigers entered the game ranked first in the SEC with nine made 3-pointers per game, but had just seven on Saturday.
Mississippi State will play Ole Miss on Thursday at the SEC Tournament.
Auburn will play Tennessee on Wednesday at the SEC Tournament.