By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Auburn laid the trap Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury feared, but the Bulldogs sidestepped it and stepped into first place instead.
Point guard Dee Bost scored 32 points to spark MSU past a lethargic first half, and the Bulldogs outscored Auburn 11-1 in overtime to win 85-75 before 8,854 at Humphrey Coliseum on Saturday night.
Bost was only 5-for-34 from 3-point range in the Bulldogs’ last seven games, but he was 7-for-13 against Auburn, including 1-for-1 in overtime when he scored five points.
Coupled with Alabama’s 73-68 win over Arkansas earlier Saturday, the win puts the Bulldogs in a first-place tie with the Razorbacks, both at 6-4 in the league.
It was the second straight overtime loss for Auburn (12-13, 3-7 SEC), which lost 82-79 at Arkansas last Saturday.
MSU (18-7) plays next against No. 3 Kentucky here Tuesday night at 8.
MSU center Jarvis Varnado knew Arkansas had lost at Alabama and knew a share of the West lead was on the line.
“We knew we had to capitalize on that,” he said.
Opportunity seemed to slip through State’s hands like a greased pig in the first half, as 3-point looks from Kodi Augustus and Phil Turner bounced harmlessly off the rim. The Bulldogs hit only 3-of-13 3-pointers in the first half.
Two of those came from Bost in a span of 90 seconds as he led a surge back from a 31-17 deficit. The Bulldogs chipped away and trailed 38-35 at the break.
Stansbury said Thursday night, after the Bulldogs defeated Ole Miss 71-63, that he was concerned about the placement of the Auburn game, coming between a rivalry game and a visit from a top 10 team.
“What I was concerned about happened,” he said. “It was obviously early in the game that our emotional level was not where it needed to be.”
Eventually that changed. State joined the game, but Auburn didn’t go away.
Neither team gained a significant advantage in the second half. There were eight lead changes in the final 8 minutes 34 seconds.
State regained the lead with Romero Osby’s dunk and free throw with 30 seconds left, but Auburn forced the overtime on DeWayne Reed’s driving layup with 14.9 seconds left.
Bost drove through the Auburn zone for the Bulldogs’ final regulation possession but lost the ball out of bounds.
His grip was much more secure in overtime when he drove in from the right wing with 1:56 left, then tripled from the key at the 1:06 mark, the latter giving State an 81-75 lead.
“He was the difference in the game,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “He really hurt us at the point tonight. He was really good.”
Barry Stewart added 12 for MSU, Osby 11 and Varnado and Phil Turner 10 each.
“Down the stretch in a 16-game schedule, sometimes you have to find a way to survive,” Stansbury said. “That’s what we did tonight. We survived.”