Mississippi State (13-5, 3-2) played its second-straight game without point guard I.J. Ready and reeled off their second-straight win as they downed Auburn (8-8, 0-5) at home, 82-74.
Despite foul trouble the entire game from Gavin Ware and just six points from Craig Sword, the Bulldogs powered their way to an eight-point lead behind four players in double digits.
As has been the case in several games this season, the Bulldogs came out of the gates a little sluggish. In the first five possessions, MSU was 0-3 from the field and had two turnovers in the first five possessions while the Tigers were hitting some shots to take the 8-0 lead with just four minutes gone in the first half.
State began to hit some shots but Gavin Ware was in early foul trouble and Craig Sword had his driving lanes cut off. That's when the Bulldogs began to hit some shots from outside. Trivante Bloodman, Fred Thomas and Colin Borchert all hit threes to get the Bulldogs within one point.
After a defensive stop, Borchert knocked down a three to give State its first lead of the game with close to four minutes remaining. Borchert knocked down another three and got a putback layup to push their lead out to five. Roquez Johnson took a nice pass from Sword on the baseline and laid it in and then a steal and slam by Sword ended the half with a nine-point lead after the Bulldogs trailed by nine previously.
State outscored the Tigers 20-4 over the last five minutes of the half and without Ware in the ball game. The Bulldogs began to get hot from the field ending the half shooting 48% at 13-27 and 5-11 from three point range. They out-rebounded the Tigers 14-12 and had just three turnovers to Auburn's nine.
Neither team made a significant impression to start the second half as the nine point lead just shrunk to six at 45-39 with 11:44 remaining. That lead swelled to 10 points at 51-41 after a Ware bucket inside.
Auburn finally started to make noise again, however. The Tigers put the pressure on the Bulldogs defensively and hit some shots for a 8-0 run and a two-point game at 51-49 with 7:40 left in the game.
After State pushed the lead back out to six, the Tigers kept chipping away before a layup cut the lead to 59-58, the closest the game had been since midway in the first half. After the lead went to three, Tyson Cunningham came through in the clutch with a three pointer that put MSU up by six and they would push that lead all the way out to 11 with just over a minute and a half remaining.
"Coach always tells me to be ready no matter what," Cunningham said. "I came in and Chicken found me open. I just shot it and I was grateful that it went in. On the other end, I saw no. 1 driving in and told myself that I had to take this charge. I was just in the right spot in the right time. I was gratefull to be out there helping my team."
Auburn continued to extend the game with fouls and quick scores and found themselves back in it at 74-70 with 52 seconds left. However, the Bulldogs would end the threat with a some free throws down the stretch and won the ball game 82-74.
The win was the sixth-straight at home for MSU and put them over the .500 mark in SEC play for the first time since January a year ago.
"Really a good win for our guys playing with some adversity, Rick Ray said. "First and foremost we're playing with seven scholarship guys and arguably your best passer and decision maker not playing these last two games. On top of that, probably your two leading scorers combined for 10 points."
State was led by Johnson who poured in 18 points on 10-16 shooting from the line. Borchert had 17 points on 6-12 shooting with 3-7 from three point range and four rebounds. State also got double digits from Thomas with 14 points and three blocks and Bloodman who added 13 points and five assists.
"Coach Ray was telling me that they are not a very physical team," Johnson said of his performance. "I just had to work hard in the paint. Me and Colin were down there and they couldn't guard us that well. Coach told us that we needed to feed it in the post, and we did."
MSU shot 50% from the field and out-scored the Tigers 28-0 in bench points. They lost the rebounding battle 32-27 and had 16 assist to just nine turnovers.
The Bulldogs now get set for a showdown in Oxford against Ole Miss (13-5, 4-1) on Saturday as the Rebels look to get revenge from their loss in Starkville a couple of weeks ago. Game time is set for 3 p.m. on SEC TV.