By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
AUBURN, Ala. – Rick Stansbury was angry, Dee Bost was bewildered and Kodi Augustus was nearly speechless.
Such were the various states of shock Mississippi State’s players and coaches were left in after Saturday’s 65-62 loss at Auburn. The Bulldogs had just blown a 19-point lead over the final 11 minutes to arguably the worst team in the SEC.
Moments after the end, Stansbury, MSU’s 13th-year coach, could be seen gesticulating angrily as he walked through the bowels of the brand-new Auburn Arena, headed for a postgame radio interview.
“For about 32 minutes we were pretty good,” Stansbury said, “and for the last eight minutes we were horrible.”
MSU (13-11, 5-5 SEC) went nearly 91/2 minutes without a field goal as the Tigers (9-15, 2-8) staged their largest comeback since erasing a 19-point deficit against LSU in 1999.
“It was disappointing,” said Bost, State’s junior point guard. He drew a deep breath before adding, “I can’t even say what I want to say.”
Despite the collapse, MSU had its chances in the final minutes to pull it out and win its third consecutive game. The previous two games, wins over LSU and Arkansas, saw the Bulldogs finish the job.
This time, turnovers and porous defense made it look as if MSU hadn’t been here before. Kodi Augustus made it a 51-32 advantage on his dunk with 11:26 to go, and it was 53-35 after a Wendell Lewis dunk at the 9:46 mark.
MSU wouldn’t make another field goal until a Bost layup with 18.2 seconds left.
In the interim, Auburn clawed back behind several different players, first sophomore guard Earnest Ross and then junior forward Kenny Gabriel, who gave the Tigers their first lead since 7-4 when he buried an open 3-pointer from the corner for a 59-58 edge at the 1:19 mark.
After an MSU turnover, point guard Josh Wallace made it 62-58 with a layup and free throw, and then Bost hit a pair of layups sandwiched around a Gabriel free throw.
After Ross hit two free throws with 3.5 seconds left, Bost got off a heave just inside half court that was off the mark at the buzzer.
It gave Auburn its first SEC win in the new arena.
MSU committed 11 of its 16 turnovers in the second half, including four over the final 3:40, three of those by Bost.
“No particular reason,” Augustus said when asked about the turnovers. “Just turned the ball over.”
He didn’t have much else to say about the loss.
“They were making bad passes and giving us a big chance to get in the passing lanes, get layups and draw fouls at the other end,” Gabriel said. “You get frustrated when things don’t go your way.”
Ross led Auburn with 21 points, while Gabriel added 18. Those two shot a combined 14 of 26 from the field, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range.
After a slow start shooting in the first half, MSU quickly warmed up from deep, hitting five 3-pointers in a row at one point en route to building a 33-18 lead by the 3:56 mark. State was 8 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half and led 36-24 at the break.
MSU shot 1 of 9 from deep in the second half.
“We can’t blame nobody but ourselves, though,” Bost said. “Nobody. Not the coaches, not the refs, just us.”
Bost led State with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4 of 8 from 3-point land. He was the only Bulldog in double figures.
Ravern Johnson, back from a two-game suspension, had just three points – on 1-of-6 shooting – and two rebounds.
MSU won the first meeting this season, 85-66 in Starkville on Jan. 16. With a chance to further solidify itself in second place in the Western Division, the Bulldogs now find themselves once again searching for answers.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow because it’s a game not just that you could’ve won, it’s a game you should’ve won,” Stansbury said. “And that’s what makes it even tougher.”