CATEGORY: Basketball



By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

Auburn coach Cliff Ellis doesn't put much stock in the fact that his team defeated Mississippi State twice last season.

The two teams No. 22 Auburn (15-5 overall, 3-4 SEC) and Mississippi State (13-5, 5-4) battle at 1:30 p.m. today in a Western Division game at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn, Ala.

Auburn defeated the Bulldogs 70-69 in Starkville and beat them 76-69 at Auburn.

"We match up well with them, but they're a different team than they were last year and we're a different team," said Ellis, who is in his second season. "Erick Dampier and Darryl Wilson are the key players you have to stop."

Dampier, State's 6-foot-11 center, is averaging 15.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and three blocked shots per game. In the Bulldogs' 76-73 win over Georgia Wednesday, he scored 16 points, had 12 rebounds and four blocks.

"The last two games we've played, Erick Dampier has been the man," MSU coach Richard Williams said. "He has been active offensively and defensively. Balls he can't rebound he tips and then goes and rebounds it."

Against Tennessee, Dampier had 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.

Wilson, a senior guard, broke a three-game scoring slump with his 27-point performance against Georgia. He was 7-of-33 for 21 percent from the field in the three previous games.

"Everybody thinks Darryl's in a slump, but he has been making the shots in practice," Williams said. "He just wasn't making his shots in a game. (Against Georgia) he got better shots and he made them."

Wilson attributed his good day (8-of-19 field goals) against Georgia to his teammates.

"The guys got me open and got me the ball," he said. "They (the shots) were going in."

Sophomore point guard Marcus Bullard has emerged as a deadly shooter for the Bulldogs. Against Georgia, he hit two key 3-pointers in the final 1 minute, 7 seconds. His final trey came with 17 seconds left and gave State a three-point cushion.

Bullard is currently rated No. 2 in the SEC and No. 14 nationally in 3-point percentage (50 percent).

"He (Bullard) has tremendous confidence and tremendous range," Williams said.

Added Wilson, "Marcus is one of the best 3-point shooters in the conference. He has made some big shots for us time and time again."

The Bulldogs also got some good news late Thursday when athletic director Larry Templeton announced that junior forward Dontae' Jones would be eligible to play in today's game. Jones was held out of Wednesday's game until a matter concerning two of his correspondence course grades from Southern Mississippi was cleared up.

Auburn is led by its three-guard lineup of Lance Weems, Wes Flanigan and Ray Donald. Pat Burke, a 6-11 center, will battle Dampier in the middle. He is averaging 11 points and 9.3 rebounds a game.

"We weren't able to beat Auburn last year," Williams said. "They've got an experienced team back. They present problems not only for us, but for anybody they play."

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