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MSU Men’s Hoops Drops Regular Season Finale at Auburn, 78-71

Men’s Hoops Drops Regular Season Finale at Auburn, 78-71

 

AUBURN, Alabama – Iverson Molinar, Tolu Smith and D.J. Stewart Jr. combined for 56 points, but the Mississippi State men’s basketball team was handed a 78-71 setback by Auburn during the regular season finale for both teams on Saturday afternoon at Auburn Arena.

The Bulldogs (14-13, 8-10 SEC) will turn their attention to next week’s SEC Tournament where State will meet Kentucky (9-15, 8-9 SEC) during Thursday’s 8-9 matchup at 11 a.m. CT televised by SEC Network. The winner advances to Friday’s quarterfinal round to take on top-seed and fifth-ranked Alabama.

Tolu Smith nearly compiled his SEC-leading eighth double-double and his third 20-10 performance of the season. He scored 13 of his team-leading 20 points before halftime, coupled with nine rebounds and two steals. The 20-point effort marked his fourth of the season and his third against SEC opponents.

Stewart Jr. put together his fifth straight and 23rd overall contest in double figures. He pumped in 12 of his 19 points during the second half and was one point shy of his seventh 20-point outing.

Molinar piled up 17 points to reach double-digit points for the 10th time in his last 12 games and in 25 of his 32 career starts. He also grabbed five rebounds and dished out a pair of assists.

State dropped to 10-2 this season when each member of the Molinar-Tolu Smith-Stewart Jr. trio reaches 10-plus points in the same game.

Deivon Smith filled the stats sheet with six points, seven rebounds, two assists and tied a season’s best with two steals. It marked Smith’s ninth game with multiple steals.

Abdul Ado and Cameron Matthews rounded out the scoring for State. Ado chipped in five points, five rebounds, two assists and a block, while Matthews added four points, a pair of boards and a steal.

Quinten Post added two rebounds to the Bulldogs total as State worked its way to a 40-34 edge in the battle of the boards. The Maroon and White have outrebounded 21 of its 27 opponents this season.

The Bulldogs distributed nine assists and committed a season-low nine turnovers, while Auburn countered with 15 assists and nine turnovers of its own. Mississippi State drained 20 of its 27 field goals in the paint en route to a 40-32 advantage in paint points.

For the contest, MSU came away with a 27-of-60 shooting effort from the field (45.0 percent), a 2-of-10 clip from three-point range (20.0 percent) and a 15-of-24 mark at the foul line (62.5 percent).

Auburn knocked down 27-of-62 from the floor (43.5 percent), converted on 11-of-33 on its triples (33.3 percent) and sank 13-of-15 from the charity stripe (86.7 percent). 

The Tigers received a balanced scoring attack with four players in double figures, highlighted by Allen Flanigan who notched 17 of his 22 points after intermission. He sank 7-of-13 from the floor.

Auburn also had Jalyn Williams dial up 18 points followed by 14 points and seven assists courtesy of Jamal Johnson. JT Thor garnered 10 points, nine rebounds and three points for the Tigers.

 

FROM THE BENCH WITH COACH HOWLAND

“I thought D.J. [Stewart Jr.] had a very good second half for us. We fought hard and did a good job competing. We’ve got to make our free throws. Obviously, Tolu [Smith] is better than 6-for-14 from the foul line. That was something that he’s got to continue to work at in his career moving forward. It looks like, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we’re locked in to the nine seed playing at 11 a.m. against Kentucky on Thursday. That’s what I told our guys. We’ll take the next day off [Sunday]. Monday, we won’t practice either. We’ll lift and watch film. Try to get two days off in a row to try to deal with aches and bodies to get ready to. Hopefully, get a nice opportunity to get a run here at the SEC Tournament.”

“We really wanted to get it to him [Tolu Smith]. He had a size advantage with whoever he is matching up with. The first half, I thought he was rushed. They tried to block everything. So, he was doing shot fakes and got off to a little bit of a shaky start. Then, he slowed down in the second half versus the first half. I thought he did a good job using shot fakes and scoring around the rim. He ends up being 7-for-17 [from the field] and 6-for-14 at the line. He had nine boards, got five of them on offense.”

“He [Auburn’s Allen Flanigan] made some big shots, there’s no question. But just overall, our team defense was really subpar compared to the first half. In the first half, they shot 32 percent from the field. In the second half, they shot 57 percent. Obviously, they had a couple of three’s that went their way and kind of turned the tide … Too many offensive rebounds. Looking at it, they had 33 attempts at the three and made 11 for 33 percent. But in the second half, they shot better than in the first half. Second half, they were 5-for-10 from the three. They didn’t take quite as many. I thought Jaylin Williams was good for them today, and obviously Flanigan was great. He made big shots, took it at us.”

 

FROM THE LOCKER ROOM – TOLU SMITH

“I’ve learned a lot this whole season, but the one thing that I’ve learned is that you just got to keep your head up as long as there’s a next game. It’s a tough loss and a nail biter for us, but it’s on to the next one.”

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Auburn led for a majority of the opening half and lived from three-point territory. The Tigers had five players knock down treys and six of their first nine field goals were from three-point territory to build a 27-18 lead with 6:02 left.

After a Mississippi State timeout, the Bulldogs closed the half on a 16-5 spurt and hit six of their nine shot attempts of the stanza. Tolu Smith kickstarted the flurry with a left-handed layup as he tallied 10 of State’s opening 20 points.

D.J. Stewart Jr. connected on a midrange jumper and a driving layup sandwiched between a Tolu Smith putback layup to make it 30-26 with 2:37 remaining.

The Bulldogs kept pushing as Iverson Molinar pulled State within one point, 32-31, on a floater in the lane inside the final 30 seconds.

Mississippi State capped its run in-style as Cameron Matthews provided a steal and delivered a bounce pass to Stewart Jr. who drained a left wing three-pointer in rhythm to give the Bulldogs a 34-32 advantage heading into halftime.

State would stretch its lead to as many as five points, 44-39, when an Abdul Ado offensive rebound was sent back out to Molinar for a trey at the 16:42 mark.

Up 46-42 at the 14:57 mark, Dylan Cardwell buried a late shot clock three-pointer to slice the Bulldogs advantage down to one.

The two teams would play within one possession over the next 10 minutes tying on six occasions and trading the lead seven times.

Mississippi State’s last lead was at 55-54 when Stewart Jr. utilized the shot fake and hit a runner in the paint.

 

Auburn’s Allen Flanigan hit a critical three-pointer to double the Tigers lead from 64-61 to 67-61 at the 4:00 mark.

Mississippi State had a chance to draw back to within a single possession, but Tolu Smith misfired on a pair of free throws. The Tigers converted on their next three possessions keyed by a Jaylin Williams hook shot and a Flanigan dunk to jump ahead 72-65 with 1:16 to go.

Auburn connected on all four of its foul shots inside the last 40 seconds to close out the seven-point decision and win its third consecutive decision over the Bulldogs on The Plains.

UP NEXT 

Mississippi State will turn its attention to next week’s SEC Tournament where the Bulldogs will meet Kentucky (9-15, 8-9 SEC) during Thursday’s 8-9 matchup at 11 a.m. CT, televised by SEC Network and available online courtesy of the Watch ESPN app. The winner advances to Friday’s quarterfinal round to take on top-seed and fifth-ranked Alabama.