Heart-pounding finishes are becoming the norm for the 2016-17 Auburn Tigers basketball team as they once again let a double-digit lead slip away before closing it out with the 98-92 win.
The first five minutes of tonight's game were back-and-forth with both teams swapping leads and playing close. Then, two of Auburn's best three-point shooters from last season got hot. Bryce Brown and TJ Lang started dropping dimes from beyond the arc and Auburn played stellar defense for the remainder of the first half. The Tigers stretched the lead to 20 points at the break thanks to the efforts of Lang, Brown, and Anfernee McLemore having a career day, as well.
The second half saw Mississippi State finally get back to shooting well. Auburn, meanwhile, began to have some struggles shooting and fouling. Where points were coming from beyond the arc in the first half, they were coming in the paint in the second. Austin Wiley became more of a force going over 10 early on in the 2nd frame.
Meanwhile, the defensive struggles saw the Bulldogs cut the lead to 10 with just over 7 minutes to play thanks to a 9-0 run that saw good defense on MSU's side and poor defense on Auburn's. It's a tale Auburn fans know all too well this year as the Tigers can never seem to string together one absolutely complete game.
MSU's leading scorer - Quinndary Weatherspoon, had a heck of a night himself, scoring over 25 points. The Bulldogs were undefeated when he scores 20+ in a game coming into this one.
Auburn, meanwhile, only has one loss when recording 10 or more assists. The Tigers reached that number before the end of the first half in this one.
One of those statistics had to end. Thankfully, Auburn's continues.
The lead got down to 7 points with just under 2 minutes to play, but some sloppy play by MSU and a fast break alley-oop from Dunans to Purifoy stretched it back to 9 with 1:30 to play.
The end of this basketball game - the final 2-2:30 minutes - lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 minutes of real time. It was crazy with the fouls (three called each way at one point before a second even came off the clock), checking who tipped a ball out of bounds, checking the clock, etc, the refs couldn't keep away from their whistles.
Mississippi State obviously watched the tape of the final minutes of the Alabama game as they went to a press defense in the final minutes and Auburn had no answer to break it to get the ball out. On top of that, the Tigers kept fouling when they least needed to, giving Mississippi State plenty of chances at the line. Although, plenty of those fouls looked questionable at best as it seemed the refs were doing everything they could to see that this game lasted as long in regulation as the South Carolina / Alabama game did in four overtimes.
The officiating in the SEC is... well, it's something. There is absolutely no reason there should have been that many whistles in the final minutes.
After close to 30 minutes (no, really), the final 2:30 finally ran off the clock. Auburn was able to hit some free throws and stretch the lead back out and come away with the win - even after MSU was able to shoot three free throws when Bryce Brown fouled on a three-point shot for some reason. There was a combined 35 (THIRTY. FIVE.) free throw attempts in the final 2:30. Auburn pulled it out 98-92 in the end, though.
That was about as ugly a game as I can remember just for the final minutes. As beautiful as the first half was, the second half was just abysmal. It belongs up there with 3-2. Burn the tape and let us never speak of this again.