NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nick Williams scored a career-high 22 points, and Mississippi defeated Auburn 68-54 in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday night.
Williams, whose previous career-high was 21, was 9-of-14 shooting and drained four 3-pointers. Murphy Holloway added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Rebels (19-12), who have won four straight and might be able to make a case for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they upset Tennessee in their second-round game Friday night.
Frankie Sullivan scored 15 points for Auburn (15-16), which lost for the fourth time in five games on the same day the NCAA acknowledged that federal investigators are looking into point-shaving allegations against suspended Tigers guard Varez Ward.
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Kenny Gabriel and Chris Denson each scored 11 points for the Tigers, who were plagued by poor shooting much of the game, finishing at 32.7 percent (18 of 55). Mississippi shot 43.8 percent (21 of 48) and outrebounded Auburn 45-31. Gabriel, who is Auburn’s second-leading scorer, is averaging just over 12 points a game, was limited to only 13 minutes because of foul trouble.
Jarvis Summers added 12 points for the Rebels.
Williams hit consecutive 3s during a 12-4 Ole Miss run early in the second half that was capped by Demarco Cox’s tip-in and gave the Rebels their largest lead to that point at 42-30.
Auburn declined to fold, responding with an 11-3 run of its own that included fast-break baskets by Denson and Josh Wallace after Mississippi turnovers.
Denson’s free throw had the Tigers as close as 45-42 with 9:10 to go before Mississippi started to pull away again with the help of five straight points by Williams on his fourth 3 of the game and another jumper.
Williams later added a baseline jumper and a driving baseline floater to push the Rebels’ lead to 57-48, and Ole Miss retained control the rest of the way while Auburn missed a handful of 3s.
Holloway had 10 of his points in the first half. His basket on a spin move in the lane, followed by his lob that set up Reginald Buckner’s alley-oop jam, gave Ole Miss a 22-17 lead.
Rob Chubb hit a couple short jumpers to trim Auburn’s deficit to 23-21, but Auburn did not hit from the field for the last 5:17 of the first half, while the Rebels’ Williams drained a 3 and midrange jumper to make it 28-21.
Denson’s free throws pulled Auburn to 28-23, and neither team scored again in the final minute before halftime.