AUBURN - As the clock melted away, Auburn's lead had melted with it. Nearing the 3-minute mark, the Tigers clung to a 53-50 lead, all that was left of an 11-point halftime lead.
Kenny Gabriel had 18 points and nine rebounds against Mississippi State/Auburn media relations photo
Kenny Gabriel, left open, put up a 3-point shot. It banged off the rim, no good. But Rob Chubb outfought everybody for the rebound and fed it back to Gabriel, who put it in and was fouled with 3:13 left. After a timeout, Gabriel made the free throw and Auburn pulled away from there to beat No. 23 Mississippi State 65-55 on Saturday night at Auburn Arena.
The crowd of 8,336 roared.
At LSU, at Arkansas, at Mississippi State and at Ole Miss, Auburn had let games get away in the final minutes. Gabriel had taken those losses particularly hard, believing he could have made plays he didn't make. As players huddled before Gabriel's free throw, they vowed this time would be different.
"We said we're not going to lose this game, because we've lost too many games in the last two minutes," Gabriel said. "I made the free throw, and we were confident we were going to make stops. We did it."
The win broke a three-game losing streak and was the Tigers' first over a ranked team since they beat SEC champion LSU 69-53 in the final game of the 2009 regular season.
Auburn improved to 14-12 overall and 4-8 in the SEC, equaling last season's conference win total, and improved to 13-2 at home. Mississippi State lost its third straight and fell to 19-8 and 6-6.
"Our team fought tonight, no matter the circumstances," Barbee said. "They made a run, we were missing some shots and things were going against us. We continued to fight. That doesn't mean you'll win, but if you don't fight , you'll probably guarantee you lose."
Gabriel finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Frankie Sullivan had 16 points. Point guard Varez Ward had 10 points, nine assists and just one turnover. Chubb had just four points, but he got seven rebounds, including the big one.
"Big offensive rebound by Rob," Barbee said. "He didn't have his great game, but it's what I've been preaching. We have to keep fighting. No matter the record, no matter the situation in the game. It's a life lesson. Things aren't always going to go your way, but you have to keep fighting."
Mississippi State held on to beat Auburn 91-88 in Starkville on Feb. 4, but the Tigers' mix of zone and man-to-man defense proved effective Saturday night. The Bulldogs were without injured 6-foot-10 forward Renardo Sidney.
Offensively, the Tigers sputtered early and fell behind 16-9. But they turned up the heat and went on a 21-4 run en route to taking a 35-24 lead at halftime.
Auburn goes on the road Tuesday to play No. 12 Florida.
"It's huge getting over that hump," Ward said. "Florida is next and it gives us some momentum for that game."
Saturday night, the Tigers made 25-of-53 field goal attempts for 47.2 percent and 11-of-14 free throws for 78.6 percent. hey made 4-of-15 3-pointers. They won the rebounding battle 36-31, had 34 points in the paint to the Bulldogs' 22, 9 second-chance points to 7 and 14 points off turnovers to 10.
Defensively, the Tigers held Mississippi State to 19-of-54 shooting for 35.2 percent and 5-of-22 on 3-point shots.
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