AU, Miss. State try to avoid cellar

It’s not the goal Auburn’s basketball team set for itself going into this season, but it’s the only one left. The Tigers go to Mississippi State today to try to break an eight-game losing streak. But most of all, they will try to avoid last place in the Southeastern Conference.

Tony Barbee says the Tigers don't want to finish last

Auburn (9-21, 3-14) and Mississippi State (8-21, 3-14) meet at 4:30 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net.

After opening 2-0 in the SEC, Auburn’s only win in the next 15 games was over Alabama. Mississippi State also opened 2-0, then lost 13 straight before beating Ole Miss.

With a victory, the Tigers will be the No. 12 or No.13 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville. With a loss, they’ll be No. 14. Dead last.

“You never want to finish in last place,” third-year Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “If it is anything we are playing for, it is to make sure that we don't finish last in our league.”

Mississippi State, already down to a bare bones roster, has lost junior guard Jalen Steele for the season. He is the fourth Bulldog player since July to suffer a season-ending knee injury.

Against Auburn, the Bulldogs will suit up eight players, including two former walk-ons (Tyson Cunningham and Baxter Price) who were awarded scholarships in January because of injuries.

Barbee saw some reasons to be encouraged in Wednesday’s 82-75 loss to Tennessee. The Tigers led at halftime and were in the game until the final seconds. Senior guard Frankie Sullivan broke out of a prolonged slump.

Sullivan still leads the Tigers with 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Chris Denson, who did not play against Tennessee because of back problems, averages 11.1 points per game. Senior point guard Josh Wallace scored a career-high 14 points against Tennessee.

Freshman Craig Sword, averaging 10 points per game, is the only available Mississippi State player averaging in double figures.

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