Sunday reflections from Auburn and beyond

Auburn basketball team knows how to win

Auburn’s 69-63 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday night was a grind, like most games are going to be for this team. But as they have done in four of five SEC games, the Tigers had answers when it mattered most.

Mississippi State is a tall, physical and athletic team. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl sounded the alarm on Thursday, saying the physicality would be a challenge his team would have to meet. You’d have to say the Bulldogs won the physical battle. On 2-point baskets and free throws, they outscored Auburn by 27. But there is no place on the scoreboard for that. Auburn won its 28th straight at Neville Arena, the second longest homecourt winning streak in Division I.

Johni Broome, an overwhelming force in the first four SEC games, wasn’t overwhelming on Saturday. Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith got the best of him. Broome was in foul trouble much of the night and saw his streak of double-doubles end at four games.

The Tigers won largely because they made 3-point shots – 11 of them – and Mississippi State made none, going 0-for-18 from 3-point range.

“The closer you get to the basket against Mississippi State, the worse you look,” Pearl said when it was over. “We knew we were going to have to make some shots.

And then there was hot-shooting Jaylin Williams, who scored 21 points and, according to Pearl, won his part of the physical battle. Point guard Wendell Green hit a back-breaking 3-pointer from very long distance, got a steal on the other end and scored again. He was 11-for-11 at the free throw line, thwarting Mississippi State’s comeback bid late. And there was oft-maligned Allen Flanigan, whose end-to-end dunk put State in a hole it could not climb out of.

When it was over and done, Auburn was one game behind unbeaten Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC race. And that really is what matters.

These Tigers won’t often dominate, but they know how to win.

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