Auburn (13-19) opened the 2015 SEC Basketball Tournament with a 74-68 win over Mississippi State (13-19). The win gives the Tigers their first SEC Tournament win since 2009 and sets up a second round matchup at approximately 3:30 p.m. ET on Thursday against Texas A&M.
Despite attempting 19 first-half free throws, Auburn trailed at halftime, 36-34, due in part to their 36 percent (9-25) shooting percentage. Mississippi State shot 48 percent (14-29) in the first half, but only hit one attempt out of eight from three-point range. Craig Sword had 10 points in nine first-half minutes, but was one of five Bulldogs hit with a pair of personal fouls in the opening stanza.
After an Auburn run opened a seven-point lead, Sword exited the game again seven minutes into the second half with an apparent knee injury after knocking knees while chasing for a loose ball. Sword returned after a brief exit from the game, but Auburn was able to stretch its lead to 11, and it looked like Auburn was going to run away with the game with 11 minutes remaining.
Mississippi State, however, had other ideas, and with a 12-0 run, the Bulldogs took the lead back at 61-59. A later pair of three pointers from Auburn sub Alex Thompson helped give Auburn a lead that it would not relinquish.
Thompson's 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting is a career high in points for a player that only appeared in 20 of Auburn's 32 games and entered the contest averaging 1.6 points per SEC game. Thompson's previous season high in points was eight against Winthrop in December. K.C. Ross-Miller and K.T. Harrell paced the Tigers with 21 and 19 points, respectively. Sword led the Bulldogs with 21 points.
The Bulldogs' third season under Rick Ray ends with twice as many SEC wins (six) as the previous campaign, but the only SEC wins of note were home wins over LSU and Vanderbilt -- in January, before the Commodores hit their stride. Ray's job might be safe this year, but another year without significant improvement will probably mark his last in Starkville.
Auburn will enter Thursday's game after a pair of regular season losses to the Aggies. A&M won in Auburn 71-61 on Jan. 27 and 80-55 on Feb. 28 in College Station.