No. 8 Auburn (16-4, 5-2) lost its second consecutive game Saturday afternoon at the hands of Mississippi State (14-6, 3-4). The biggest storyline yet again for Auburn was their shooting. In all four losses this season, they have struggled from the field. Saturday was no different.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl warned everyone who would listen last Saturday after the Ole Miss game.
“We are still not as good as they think we are,” Pearl said after the Ole Miss game. “We’re not. We’re better than they thought we were.” Pearl’s statement has proven true over the past week.
Starting off SEC play 5-0, Auburn faced a tough week, having to travel to Alabama on Wednesday and Mississippi State on Saturday. After falling to the Tide, they hoped to get back on track against the Bulldogs.
However, they met a physical and tough defensive team in Starkville. Auburn scored just 21 points in the first half on 28% shooting from the field. The good news for Auburn was that their defense traveled. It held the Bulldogs to just 21 points as well, leaving the game knotted at halftime.
“We played pretty good defense in the first half,” Pearl said.
The second half was better offensively for Auburn, but it was not good enough to get the road win. They shot 38.7% from the field and 28.6% from three-point range. Overall, on the day, they shot 33.9% from the field and 25% from three.
“We continue to struggle to shoot on the road, Pearl said. “And I and we continue to, unfortunately, take some of those shots that we’re just going to have to either make or some guys just have to put them away because it’s hurting our offensive productivity when we’re launching and missing like we are on the road.”
While Mississippi State’s shooting was woeful as well in the first half, they shot 57.7% in the second half and 44.4% from three. The Bulldogs shooting drastically improved compared to Auburn's, and that ended up being the difference.
Freshman standout Josh Hubbard for the Bulldogs scored 17 points in the game, including knocking down a clutch three with 1:37 left in the game that extended Mississippi State’s lead to four. Cameron Matthew and Shakeel Moore added 14 and 12 points, respectively, for the Bulldogs.
While shooting has been the biggest issue for Auburn in their most recent losses, rebounding also played a big role in Saturday’s defeat. Auburn was out rebounded 45-30, including giving up 14 offensive rebounds. Those 14 offensive rebounds led to 12 second-chance points, which is a large number in a low-scoring game.
“We didn’t get rebounds,” Pearl said. “That’s what cost us at Alabama, and that's partly what cost us at Mississippi State.”
As for positives, there weren’t many besides Auburn’s defense in the first half and Johni Broome. Coming off a career game against Alabama, Broome scored 14 points on 5-7 shooting.
“When Johni Broome is 5-7 and the rest of the team shoots the percentage that they shoot, a better coach would have gotten him the ball more, Pearl said.
Despite the overall poor performance, Auburn still had a chance to win the game, which should be encouraging to Bruce Pearl’s team. The key moving forward will be executing at a higher level on the road.
“You have to step up to beat the best teams on your schedule,” Pearl said.
The good news for Auburn is that they return home Wednesday night to face Vanderbilt. It will be the second matchup of the season between the two. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network and the Auburn Sports Network.