No. 11 Auburn looks to stay focused vs. Mississippi

Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl is trying to make sure his players don’t get caught up in any distractions.

And it seems to be working as the 11th-ranked visit Mississippi on Tuesday.

“Maybe other teams think we probably are the hunted, but we also feel like we’re hunting as a team,” point guard Jared Harper told AL.com. “We were supposed to be 4-14. We were supposed to not be in the position we’re in now, but we are. We’re not trying to be the hunted, you still want to be the hunter.”

The Tigers (19-2, 7-1) were picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC. Instead, they’ve lost just once since the middle of November, climbed to No. 11 in the nation and taken a one-game lead over Florida in the conference standings.

“The unexpected success has created a buzz usually reserved for football.

“You can just tell that everybody around campus is super excited for how we’re doing,” Harper said. “We’re just as excited and just knowing our hard work is paying off. Knowing that a lot of people before, they didn’t come to basketball games, they would only go to football games. But we’re starting to see a lot more students come to basketball games and they really enjoy it.”

The Rebels (11-10, 4-4), whom the Tigers beat three weeks ago, haven’t lost at home during conference play.

“Obviously with Ole Miss being undefeated at home and having the run that they’ve had against us, it’s a tough matchup for us,” Pearl said.

In its 85-70 win over Ole Miss on Jan. 9, Auburn overcame a 10-point halftime deficit, outscoring the Rebels 50-25 in the second half.

The Tigers had a similarly slow start in a Jan. 20 win over Georgia, but had no such difficulties on Saturday against LSU.

Auburn made 11 3-pointers and shot 53 percent in the first half to take a 51-32 lead.

“We got whipped every way you could get whipped,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “It was an absolute bludgeoning from the start.”

Ole Miss has one win in its past four games as its postseason hopes have mostly disappeared. The Rebels shot 50 percent in a 78-66 win over Alabama last Tuesday but followed it up by shooting 39.1 percent in an 85-72 loss at Texas on Saturday.

“I didn’t like our approach (Saturday),” Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said after his team lost to Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. “It’s almost as if we play far too casual on the road. It’s happened to us in our last two SEC outings. Maybe at home you can get away with some of that stuff.”

Ole Miss is 0-6 in true road games this season but 10-3 at home.

“The teams we’ve been playing on the road are great teams, but each game came down to the last possession and we were right there,” guard Deandre Burnett said, according to The Oxford (Miss.) Eagle. “We know what we’ve got to do, and I think this team is more than capable of doing it.”