AUBURN, Ala. - Mississippi State failed on its first attempt to win the out-right Southeastern Conference men's basketball Western Division championship, falling to Auburn 89-80 Wednesday night in the final game ever for 42-year-old Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on the AU campus.
A boisterous crowd of 9,927 sent the arena and the Auburn senior class out on a high note. Despite staying within range and forcing six ties in the contest, the Bulldogs never managed a lead after early 2-0 and 4-3 advantages got away.
MSU fell to 21-9 overall and 9-6 in league play. Already guaranteed a share of the division title, the Bulldogs can still win the title out-right by defeating Tennessee at home Saturday or by having Ole Miss lose one of its final two games.
The Tigers seized momentum in the opening half Wednesday night, shooting 59.4 percent in that half. The teams were tied at 13, 16, 18 and 20. Auburn then pieced together a 10-2 run sparked by back-to-back treys from Earnest Ross and Tay Waller.
The Bulldogs closed within five at 34-29 on one of Barry Stewart's first-half three 3-point baskets. Stewart again scored from long distance to make it 38-32. Undeterred, the hosts responded with an 8-3 run to take their largest lead of the game, at 46-35 with 1:20 left in the first half.
Auburn led 46-37 at the intermission.
In the opening minutes of the second half, the Bulldogs used some defensive pressure to cut the lead down to five. A Dee Bost layup cut the deficit to 52-47. Two possessions later, a Bost 3-pointer brought MSU within 55-52.
The Bulldogs followed with their best stretch of the night as an 11-4 run was punctuated by back-to-back Bost treys forcing a 65-65 tie with 9:10 left. Still, the Bulldogs could not get over the hump.
A DeWayne Reed 3-point basket capped a 5-0 spurt by Auburn and the Tigers would not be in danger the remainder of the way.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 30 of 62 shots from the field (48.4 percent), 12 of 33 shots from 3-point range (36.4 percent) and 8 of 11 shots from the foul line (72.7 percent). The Tigers hit 30 of 58 shots from the field (51.7 percent), 11 of 24 shots from 3-point range (45.8 percent) and 18 of 31 shots from the foul line (58.1 percent).
AU held a 36-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 16 assists and 10 turnovers, while the Tigers had 19 assists and eight turnovers.
Waller paced Auburn with 22 points, including a 6-for-11 night from 3-point range. Also in double figures were Brendon Knox with 21 points, Reed with 19 points and Lucas Hargrove with 16 points.
For the Bulldogs, Bost led the way with 25 points, including a 5-for-9 night from 3-point range. Stewart added four 3-point baskets and finished with 18 points. Ravern Johnson added 16 points, while Jarvis Varnado had 14 points and three blocks. Kodi Augustus pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
MSU hosts Tennessee in a 5 p.m. start Saturday in the Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldog senior class will be honored in pregame ceremonies. ESPN will have the telecast. MSU then opens play in the SEC Tournament as the West No. 1 seed at 6:30 p.m. CT on Friday, March 12 from the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tennessee.