Auburn holds off Mississippi State for 98-92 victory

Auburn's Austin Wiley dunks against Mississippi State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 98-92. (Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News via AP)

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers built a big lead and held on for dear life – again.

Bryce Brown scored 18 points and Mustapha Heron added 17 to help Auburn hold off a big Mississippi State comeback attempt and win 98-92 Tuesday night.

The Tigers (16-8, 5-6 Southeastern Conference) raced to a 20-point halftime lead behind a barrage of eight 3s, then their outside shots quit falling and the Bulldogs started hitting them.

It was the most points Auburn has scored in an SEC game since a 102-61 win over Alabama on Feb. 13, 1999.

”I don’t think anybody’s going to confuse Mississippi State or Auburn as two of the better defensive teams in the league but we do have some terrific players on both teams,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. ”You can see how dangerous a club they are.

”They came back from 19 down against Tennessee. It’s just no fluke. They’ve got so many weapons. Those guards, (Lamar) Peters, (Mario) Kegler and (Quinndary) Weatherspoon, they’re a handful. Those guys got it going in the second half and there wasn’t anything we could do to stop them.”

Auburn had lost most of a 15-point lead before eking out an 82-77 win over Alabama.

Mississippi State (14-9, 5-6), which had just rallied from that 19-point deficit to beat Tennessee, couldn’t quite stage a repeat performance after trailing 48-28 at halftime. The Bulldogs trimmed a 21-point deficit down to 91-86 with 51 seconds left to put a scare into Auburn.

Peters hit 5 of 6 free throws in a 16-second span to keep Mississippi State within range.

”We take a couple of bad shots and it just snowballs to their transition opportunities,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. ”I was really proud of the way we fought to come back, never quit, never gave up, and actually gave ourselves a chance.”

Jared Harper and Mustapha Heron each made a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds after Brown missed both attempts following a technical foul against Mississippi State’s Xavian Stapleton.

Austin Wiley had 14 points and T.J. Dunans 11 for the Tigers. Ronnie Johnson had a season-best eight assists and scored six points. Brown made 4 of 5 3-pointers – all in the first half – for the second straight game.

”I felt like they were sagging off (defensively),” Brown said. ”I felt like that was a little disrespectful, so we took advantage of it.”

Weatherspoon led the Bulldogs with 25 points and nine rebounds. Peters scored 23 and made 10 of 11 free throws. Kegler scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half before fouling out.

BIG PICTURE

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs shot 18 of 31 (58 percent) and made eight 3-pointers in the second half. Bulldogs hit 27 of 34 from the line.

Auburn: The Tigers have won three of their last four games. … Made 8 of 15 3-pointers in the first half and 1 of 7 in the second. … Forward Horace Spencer missed his second straight game with a left shoulder injury.

FOUL FESTIVAL

The teams combined for 19 fouls and 34 free throws in the final 2:25. It wasn’t just Mississippi State trying to send Auburn to the line and stop the clock, though the Tigers did make 10 of 14 foul shots over the final 71 seconds.

Auburn was called for a number of late fouls also.

”I thought that those guys were driving into contact and they were calling it accordingly,” Pearl said. ”The problem is, we were in bonus early. We fouled them too much, for sure.”

UP NEXT

Mississippi State hosts No. 19 South Carolina, which lost 90-86 to Alabama in quadruple overtime, on Tuesday.

Auburn visits Mississippi Saturday seeking its third straight road win.