By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – It might not mean much to anybody else, but avoiding a last-place finish in the SEC is a big deal to Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs avoided that distinction with Saturday’s 74-71 overtime win against Auburn at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU (9-21, 4-14 SEC) earned the No. 13 SEC Tournament seed and will open play in Nashville against 12-seeded South Carolina on Wednesday night.
Auburn gets the 14 seed and will play Texas A&M.
MSU, which struggled at the free throw line all game – it made 16 of 29 – made 4 of 6 in overtime to pull it out. Craig Sword hit two with 36 seconds to go, making it 73-71, and Auburn couldn’t find the net in the final seconds.
“You get a chance to read some things and people are talking about we’re the worst team ever in SEC history, so I guess we can’t be that if we finish 13th out of 14th,” first-year coach Rick Ray said.
“I don’t wanna say what I wanna say, but we proved them wrong,” said guard Craig Sword, who scored 19 points and had six assists.
MSU has won two of its last three games, and for a young team with only six available scholarship players, the confidence they have right now is important.
Borchert steps up
“By us having a lot of young players, our confidence will go from up to down really fast just because of one game, one shot, anything like that,” said junior Colin Borchert.”
Borchert had maybe his best all-around game. The East Mississippi CC transfer scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds, recording his first career double-double.
He was 4 of 6 from 3-point range, and his trey with 17.5 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 65-65 and sent it to OT.
“I always box out, but sometimes I don’t have the initiative to go and get the rebound,” Borchert said. “That’s what me and my coaches have been talking about, that I just need a big game on the boards.”
MSU cracked down defensively in the extra period, as Auburn (9-22, 3-15) shot 2 of 9 from the floor. Chris Denson, who scored a game-high 24 points, didn’t score again after his layup with 2:13 left in the second half gave the Tigers a 63-62 lead.
“They told us, cut his left hand off, and we did, he couldn’t score,” Sword said.
The Bulldogs made up for their poor free throw shooting by making 8 of 17 from 3-point range.
MSU also had trouble feeding the post, and Auburn senior big man Rob Chubb had a good game, finishing with 18 points while helping hold MSU center Gavin Ware to three.
Auburn used a 13-2 run to stake a 22-16 lead, but a pair of buckets by Johnson helped MSU close strong and it was 24-24 at halftime.