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A spirit that is not afraid

Williams' season-high scoring elevates Auburn over Mississippi State

Jaylin Williams tied his season-high in 3-pointers in a game in the first five and a half minutes against Mississippi State — three makes in a row.

In a rare night where Auburn was dominated in the paint, the Tigers relied on the long ball to sink the Bulldogs 69-63 and secure its 28th consecutive home win. The Bulldogs outscored Auburn 40-24 in the paint, outrebounded Auburn 38-32 and won the turnover battle 20-16, but Auburn's 11-for-25 from beyond the arc opposed to Mississippi State's 0-for-18 negated any area where it might have lacked.

Auburn kept its foot on the pedal from there, and Williams racked up a season-high 21 points on five 3s — just three shy of his career-high 24 against Ole Miss two seasons ago. Williams ignited the 3-point fire, and he nailed the 11th and final deep ball to give Auburn its season-high in 3s in a game this season (previous was 10 versus Colgate).

"Mississippi State is so big, so long, so athletic. The closer you get to the basket against them, the better chance you get blocked," said head coach Bruce Pearl. "So, we had talked a lot about just trying to get some open shots and taking those open shots... It was really good.”

Auburn's 44% shooting from the field was enough to hold a seven-point advantage with 1:16 on the clock, but Williams had fouled out with 2:30 to go so clutch free-throw shooting from Wendell Green Jr. secured the win for Auburn. The Bulldogs only led for 56 seconds in the game, but they were able to keep it within single digits throughout by getting easy looks inside, winning the second half 41-39. 

In a match between two of the SEC's most aggressive defenses, Auburn converted 10 steals to 14 points — including an emphatic Allen Flanigan dunk to put him in double-figure scoring for the fourth straight game.  Flanigan shot 4-for-8 from the field while splashing two 3s, hauling in a team-best seven rebounds and three assists to help his team to a third consecutive win.

"It means a lot (to have Flanigan as a go-to scorer) because Al is a great scorer and he's a great defender, and like very underrated when it comes to rebounding," Williams said. "Very explosive, one of the best athletes on the team.”

Green Jr. led the way with four steals, leading to easy opportunities for Auburn in transition. Along with his strong shooting, he displayed his top-notch floor vision with three assists in his team-leading 32 minutes on the floor.

 “He’s got a swagger and confidence," Pearl said. "He’s able to make plays because he’s not afraid of the moment. He’s very experienced, and he’s a really smart player.”

While Auburn shot the ball with great efficiency from outside, avoiding Mississippi State's sure interior — which proved to live up to the hype with four blocks — it also looked made some lazy passes resulting in 20 turnovers, seven of those coming from Flanigan. 

The Bulldogs benefitted from an off night from Johni Broome, who Pearl called Auburn's "most consistent player." Broome only managed six points and four rebounds while turning the ball over four times. Without Broome running the paint, Auburn — second in the nation in blocks — only denied one Mississippi State drive. That block was by Flanigan, but the singular effort wasn't enough to keep Tolu Smith from 20 points and Dashawn Davis from getting to the line 13 times in his 13-point performance.

Chris Moore, who suffered a separated shoulder in Auburn's last game, had an MRI procedure the following day but has yet to return to practice and spent his time on the Auburn bench with his arm in a sling.

While Auburn struggled in some areas, it found a way to win in a different way than it has all season, this time for its third straight SEC win. 

Tied for second in the SEC, the Tigers will head into Baton Rouge on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. CST matchup with LSU (12-5, 1-4), a team looking to rebound from a 40-point loss at the hands of No. 4 Alabama.

"It's early, though," Green Jr. said. "You know, we still got to play some of the top teams. But, you know, we just take it one game at a time. We gotta go on the road two games in a row, but we feel better about how we're playing.”

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