Auburn basketball’s season may have been filled with more lows than highs, but the Tigers ended things on a high note.
On Saturday, Auburn took care of business against Mississippi State for a 78-71 win over the Bulldogs. The victory was head coach Bruce Pearl’s 600th win as a head coach.
“I’m truly grateful, Pearl said. “Humbled, blessed -- God has blessed me beyond what I deserve. But I keep score, I do. And 600 is a big number. 700 would be even better.”
Sharife Cooper was unavailable to play because of his previous ankle injury. Starting in Cooper’s place at point guard was Jamal Johnson.
Johnson finished the day with 14 points, seven assists and only two turnovers in 38 minutes.
While Johnson was unable to remember the last time he played 38 minutes, he wanted to give it his all for the season’s final game.
“Shoot, I don’t know, Johnson said. “How many minutes do you even play in high school? I don’t even know. I mean, I was tired, but I pushed through it for our last game, and you know just be there and try to compete as hard as we can so we can try to get coach’s 600 win and for our team to go out with a bang.”
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The Tigers opened up the game by scoring exclusively from beyond the arc. Auburn’s first nine points were from 3-point range, and the first non-3-point basket came off a dunk by “Stretch” Akingbola with 12:40 left in the first half.
Auburn led for most of the first half until a 6-0 Mississippi State run over the final 1:10 gave the Bulldogs a 34-32 lead going into halftime.
The Tigers were 11-of-34 from the field and 6-of-23 from beyond the arc in the first half. JT Thor led the team in scoring at halftime with eight points and a team-high six rebounds.
In the second half, Allen Flanigan led the way for Auburn with 17 second-half points. Flanigan finished the day with a team-high 22 points and was 7-of-13 from the field.
“I knew the game was close, and I had to step up and try to make plays,” Flanigan said. “I just took advantage of how guys were closing out and playing.”
Joining Flanigan in double-digits was Thor, Johnson and Jaylin Williams. Thor finished with 10 points, Johnson had 14 and Williams dropped in 18.
Coming out of halftime, the two teams traded baskets in a back-and-forth affair until Auburn broke away with 7:06 left to go. Williams’ jumper gave the Tigers a 61-59 lead, and Auburn never gave the lead back.
Both teams shot over 40% from the field in the second half as Auburn shot 57.1% and Mississippi State shot 44.8%. The Tigers were 5-of-10 from 3-point range in the second half, while the Bulldogs were 1-of-6.
With 1:16 left in the game, Flanigan’s dunk put the Tigers up 72-65, and then it became about making free throws for Auburn.
Auburn’s season ended on Saturday as the Tigers self-imposed a postseason ban before the start of the season. Auburn finished the season with an overall record of 13-14 and was 7-11 in SEC play.
“The whole year, we always had that in the back of our mind that we weren’t playing in the postseason,” Johnson said. “The coaching staff did a great job of helping us get mentally prepared for games. So, we wanted to come out hard and play hard regardless of anything that was going on postseason or whatever. We want to play and focus on the now. Work hard and play hard and try and get this win.”
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