Auburn Tigers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Pick & Prediction MARCH 16th 2024

Mississippi State forward Cameron Matthews made a request to the media Friday, minutes after his ninth-seeded team sent regular-season champion Tennessee packing from the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

“Please, please keep counting us out,” he said following an emphatic 73-56 win. “Please keep giving us a chip on our shoulder. Gives fuel to the fire.”

The Bulldogs aim to burn fourth-seeded Auburn on Saturday when the teams meet in the tournament’s first semifinal.

Thought of as a bubble team before its tournament opener Thursday against LSU, Mississippi State (21-12) likely has played itself into the NCAA Tournament field with two decisive victories. While the fifth-ranked Volunteers shot miserably on Friday, making just 30.6 percent of their shots, there is no question the Bulldogs deserve some credit for that.

They limited SEC Player of the Year Dalton Knecht to 14 points on 4-of-17 shooting while dissecting one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Mississippi State hit 55.3 percent from the field, including 22 of 34 (64.7 percent) on 2-point shots against a team that takes pride in controlling the lane.

Instead, it was the Bulldogs who owned the interior with a 42-14 advantage in points in the paint.

“Really felt like our only chance was to hit them in the mouth,” Bulldogs coach Chris Jans said. “We had to come out and attack them, just get our toughness in the game. See if we could rattle them a little bit.”

Matthews did his share of rattling with 18 points, making all seven shots from the field, including an highlight-video dunk in the first half. And freshman Josh Hubbard, the team’s leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, added 18.

Meanwhile, the 12th-ranked Tigers (25-7) cruised in their first SEC tourney game, routing 15th-ranked South Carolina 86-56 in the quarterfinals on Friday. Johni Broome led the way with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while the defense limited the Gamecocks to 28.1 percent shooting from the field.

Auburn particularly was successful defending around the rim as Broome and others disrupted South Carolina’s frontcourt.

“Our front line takes pride in our defense,” Broome said. “We held our own and stood our ground.”

Broome leads the team in scoring (16.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.5) but is far from the Tigers’ only weapon. Six other players chip in between 6.7 and 12.9 points per contest, and 10 other players joined the scoring column Friday. That depth also shows up on the defensive end as coach Bruce Pearl continually rotates in fresh bodies order to ensure maximum intensity.

“You got to play with effort and energy,” Pearl said. “We’re committed to playing 10 guys. Look at all the guys that feel really good about the way they’re playing and contributing. Those guys like each other, get along with each other, share the minutes. That allows you to not take plays off.”

The teams split their regular-season meetings with each winning at home. Mississippi State prevailed 64-58 on Jan. 27, and Auburn took a 78-63 decision on March 2.

–Field Level Media

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