By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Dee Bost wasn’t able to finish what he started in the second half, but his teammates picked up the slack to earn No. 22 Mississippi State another tight SEC home win on Saturday.
Bost’s 3-point barrage to open the second half – he made three in a row during a 93-second span – put MSU ahead to stay, and the Bulldogs held on for a 91-88 win over Auburn at Humphrey Coliseum.
The Tigers (13-10, 3-6 SEC) led 44-43 at halftime, and Bost had only three points. He came out firing to give MSU (18-5, 5-3) a 52-44 edge.
“I was feeling it, so I just pulled it,” said Bost, who finished with 15 points on 4 of 6 shooting – all from 3-point range.
State eventually pushed its lead out to 13 points on a Jalen Steele 3-pointer, and it was that margin again after Bost lobbed an inbounds pass to Arnett Moultrie for a dunk.
But then Auburn went on a 9-1 run to cut MSU’s lead to 69-64 with 9 minutes, 3 seconds left.
When Bost fouled at the 3:26 mark, it was a 79-74 lead. Renardo Sidney and Moultrie both had big buckets, and State kept getting to the free throw line to seal it.
MSU is now 4-0 at home in SEC games, with the average margin of victory being four points.
“I don’t want to learn that lesson,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said of winning without Bost. “If that’s the lesson we take from it, that’s good.”
MSU shot a season-high 60.4 percent for the game and 63.2 percent (12 of 19) from behind the 3-point arc. Moultrie had 21 points and seven rebounds, while Sidney added 17 points and Steele 13.
Rodney Hood chipped in 11, with he and Steele each draining three 3-pointers.
Auburn shot 45.9 percent, but just 39.4 after halftime, and finished with a season high in points.
“Defensively we didn’t lock in and take care of some things the way we needed to,” Stansbury said. “We didn’t separate it totally the second half because of free throw shooting.”
MSU shot only two free throws the first half but was 19 of 33 the second half. Auburn was 26 of 36.
MSU had 21 assists – nine by Brian Bryant – against 10 turnovers and got 20 points from its bench.
An inability to put away opponents is becoming irksome for Bost, who watched as Auburn got within five points with 41 seconds to go and could have cut it to two if Frankie Sullivan’s 3-pointer had fallen.
“We get a big lead, and I guess we let it slip sometimes. I’m getting tired of it,” Bost said.
Varez Ward gave MSU the most trouble, knifing through the defense time and again en route to a game-high 24 points. He shot 7 of 14 overall and 9 of 12 from the free throw line.
Both teams came out firing, with MSU shooting 63 percent in the first half – 7 of 12 from behind the arc – and Auburn hitting 53.6 percent. The Bulldogs had a 39-33 lead after a Hood 3-pointer, but Auburn closed the half with an 11-4 run.
Kenny Gabriel’s 3-ball from the corner sent the Tigers into the break with a 44-43 lead. He had 15 points at that time and finished with 22.
MSU is back home Thursday against Ole Miss.