Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
The last time Auburn and Mississippi State matched up on the floor the Tigers clinched a share of the SEC regular season title in an overtime thriller in Starkville, Mississippi last season. And while the offseason has brought change to both programs with future NBA stars leaving Auburn for the draft and a coaching change for the Bulldogs, this clash always seems to be a physical fight.
“How do they do it? They are really athletic. They are really physical. They play really hard. They are well coached and they are multiple defensive–man, zone, they will press. They are ranked really high in steals,” Head Coach Bruce Pearl said.
What a difference the last week has made for Pearl’s ball club. Just one week ago, Auburn was 1-1 in league play after suffering a loss to a rebuilding Georgia team that the Tigers had beaten three out of their last four tries. The guards were questioned. The veteran experience was questioned. And the team seemed doubtful to even make a tournament run. But Auburn responded.
“Al’s put the time in, he’s put the work in, he’s been grinding, and over a period of the last several months, and you just haven’t seen as much reward for all that work—but you saw it the last couple games,” Pearl said. “It’s been wonderful to see. Not only has he shot the ball well, but he’s been our leading defensive rebounder. He’s playing all those minutes without turning the ball over, which is important. He’s just doing all the right things, and as a result, he’s playing well.”
Allen Flanigan seems to have finally returned to his former self. Flanigan has had three straight games with at least 10 points and five rebounds for the first time in his career and played a season high 34 minutes during Auburn’s last game in Oxford. Flanigan, likely moving back into the starter role at the three position, will begin to play an even higher volume of minutes with Chris Moore’s shoulder injury, that Pearl said will likely keep him out off tonight’s matchup after missing practice all week.
Photo by Auburn Athletics/@auburntigers
“Wendell is one the best point guards in this league that doesn’t get the recognition that other guards get, but that has been the story of his life as an undersized point guard,” Pearl said.
“The thing I like about Wendell is he is able to make plays both offensively and defensively,” Pearl said. “He is one of the smartest players I have ever coached. He is a real key, obviously, for us.”
Wendell Green Jr. made quite the statement this past week after the 2-12 from the field and 0-6 from deep performance against the Georgia Bulldogs on January 4th. Green was able to go shot for shot with McDonalds All-American guards Anthony Black and Ricky Council IV from Arkansas with 19 points shooting five of eight from the field and 5 assists. Green then proceeded to have his best performance of the season against the Rebels with a 23 point night, matching a career high at Auburn against Alabama on Feb. 1, 2022. Green also led the team in assists with seven and shot a perfect 11-of-11 from the charity stripe in his 33 minutes of action.
“They started off the season 11-0,” Pearl pointed out. “They have got some great wins. Early in the season a win against Marquette is one of the better wins our team had in the non-conference. Marquette is having a great year in the Big East.”
Chris Jans’ staple defense has arrived in Starkville with the Bulldogs, through 16 games, are among the nation’s best surrendering 56.8 points per game, ranking 2nd in the SEC and 5th nationally, on a 38.2 opponent percent field goal percentage, ranking 3rd in the SEC and 13th nationally. Tolu Smith, a member of the first team all-SEC preseason team, will be a large factor in this ballgame ranking inside the SEC’s top 15 in PPG with 13.6, 13th in the league, along with being in the SEC’s top 5 in RPG with 7.6, currently Tied 5th in the SEC, and leads the SEC in FG percentage with 58.5.
"This will not be a game for the faint of heart," Pearl said.
Auburn’s 27 game home winning streak will be put to the test when the Tigers and Bulldogs tipoff at 7:30PM CST inside of Neville Arena for the annual “throwback game”. The game will be televised on the SEC Network and can be heard on the Auburn Sports Network across the state.