STARKVILLE • Southeastern Conference play starts today for Mississippi State and the Bulldogs get a tall task right out of the gate.
MSU hosts No. 8 Auburn at 3:30 p.m. on SEC Network in a matchup that pits the Bulldogs against the defending SEC Tournament champions and a Tiger team that reached the Final Four last season.
“We’re playing against the highest ranked (SEC) team, an undefeated team – one of only a couple left now,” said MSU coach Ben Howland. “It’s a great Auburn team and a great opportunity for our program and our team. Our guys are excited.”
State posted a 9-3 record during the non-conference slate and are gearing up for league play after going 10-8 in the SEC last season.
“We’ve been looking forward to SEC play this year, especially this game,” said MSU senior guard Tyson Carter. “It’s going to be a big crowd and we’re just going to come out and have fun.”
Carter is currently tied with sophomore forward Reggie Perry for the team lead, averaging 15.4 points per game.
It is the Bulldogs size that concerns Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, especially on the offensive glass. Perry and Abdul Ado are tied for the conference lead with 3.3 offensive boards per game followed closely by Robert Woodard II at 2.7.
“They have three of the top five offensive rebounders in the league,” Pearl said. “They have some guys in Perry, Ado and Woodard that are three big, physical athletes.”
The Tigers managed to skate through the non-conference slate unscathed at 12-0 and are coming off an 86-59 home victory over Lipscomb. However, today will be only the second away game for Auburn this season and set in a venue it has struggled in of late.
“We recognize that in Starkville, were 2-15 since 2001,” Pearl said. “It’s been a real tough place for Auburn to go play.”
The two teams split its meetings last year. Mississippi State claimed a 92-84 victory at Humphrey Coliseum and Auburn returned the favor on the Plains, 80-75.
Minus five from Final Four
The Tigers lost five players from their Final Four team a year ago but are still tied for second in the SEC scoring 82.2 points this season. Senior guard Samir Doughty tops Auburn averaging 16.4 points per game.
“They don’t shoot the 3 like they did a year ago,” Howland said. “They’re still a very good 3-point shooting team but I think they’re really good at driving and getting second shots. They create a lot with their defense and they have a lot more length than they had a year ago.”