By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
AUBURN, Ala. – Mississippi State’s descent is picking up steam.
The Bulldogs lost their third consecutive game, falling 65-55 to Auburn on Saturday night. It dropped MSU (19-8, 6-6 SEC) to 1-5 in league road games and will put a big dent in the RPI portion of its postseason rampésumampé.
With Renardo Sidney on the bench due to back spasms, MSU could not hit enough outside shots to support forward Arnett Moultrie’s 16 points and 11 rebounds.
State shot 35.2 percent for the game, including 22.7 percent (5 of 22) from 3-point range.
“When you’re on the road sometimes it can dome down to some simple things, very simple things. You’ve got to make some shots,” coach Rick Stansbury said.
What’s becoming increasingly complicated for MSU is figuring out how to beat lesser teams. Stansbury reiterated what he said following Tuesday’s loss at LSU – that his team was the underdog because it was the visitor.
Auburn is now 14-12, 4-8 in the SEC. Coach Tony Barbee said a midweek bye helped his team get rested and refocused.
MSU must refocus for an imposing closing stretch. No. 1 Kentucky visits Starkville on Tuesday, then come two more road games before closing at home versus Arkansas.
“It’s been crunch time,” senior point guard Dee Bost said. “The ball didn’t bounce our way these last three games. It’s up to us to change it. We’ve got an opportunity Tuesday to change it.”
Two weeks after beating Auburn at home, 91-88, MSU found itself in a more defensive, physical game Saturday. It did a better job keeping Auburn off the foul line – the Tigers shot 22 fewer than in the first meeting – but State was a modest 12 of 17 itself.
MSU trailed by 11 at halftime but fought back within 53-50 with 5:01 to go.
It was 56-52 after a Moultrie bucket with 2 minutes, 56 seconds left, but that was followed by a missed 3-pointer, a missed layup and a travel by DeVille Smith. Meanwhile, Frankie Sullivan made a floater, and free throws added to the lead. He had 16 points.
“We said, we’re not fixing to lose this game, because we’ve lost too many games in the last few minutes,” said Kenny Gabriel, who scored 15 points for Auburn. His layup and free throw with 3:13 left made it 56-50.
Auburn made 47.2 percent of its shots, including 4 of 15 from 3-point range.
MSU led 16-9 when Auburn reeled off 16 points in a row, with six different players scoring during the stretch. The lead reached 30-20, and then a technical foul on Stansbury just before halftime helped the Tigers stake a 35-24 lead going into the break.
MSU never retook the lead.
Bost, who had 11 points, said he can’t put a finger on what’s ailing MSU, but time is running out to fix it.
“I can’t point to anything. I feel like we played some good defense. They hit a lot of tough shots and the only thing I can say is tomorrow in practice we need to get better and get ready for Tuesday.”