No. 11 Auburn eyeing redemption vs. Mississippi State

Mississippi State and Auburn will try to bounce back from close losses to ranked teams when they meet Saturday in Southeastern Conference action in Auburn, Ala.

The Bulldogs (19-9, 8-7 SEC) saw their five-game winning streak come to an end when No. 16 Kentucky made a tie-breaking field goal with less than a second left in a 91-89 victory Tuesday night.

The No. 11 Tigers (21-7, 10-5) led No. 4 Tennessee by eight points midway through the second half before losing 92-84 in a road game that featured 12 lead changes on Wednesday night.

“I thought when we got that lead in the second half, we were in a good spot,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “It was a really good contest, two really good teams who wanted to win it really badly.”

The Tigers are tied for fourth in the SEC with Kentucky and Florida, two games ahead of Mississippi State.

“We came here to try to win a championship. That’s what the kids were playing for,” Pearl said. “Mississippi State is going to be really tough. They’ve won five of their last six. Our kids don’t get a reprieve. This is going to be a hard one to recover from because we had our chances and we did not seize the opportunity, and that’s disappointing.”

Auburn has alternated wins and losses in its last six games. The last time it had consecutive wins or losses was a three-game winning streak that began after a 64-58 loss at Mississippi State on Jan. 27.

The Bulldogs’ loss to Kentucky was their first defeat since Feb. 3 at then-No. 24 Alabama.

“We didn’t talk about the winning streak,” MSU coach Chris Jans said. “I don’t think I ever brought it up, not one time. We just truly look at each game as its own entity. We treat (every game) as the Super Bowl in how we prepare mentally and physically.

“The games are like the season. In the games, time runs out. Opportunities run out. When you have an opportunity to win a game like this on your home floor, you’ve got to get it done. We just didn’t do it at the end of the day.”

Josh Hubbard continued to be one of the elite freshmen in the country, scoring a season-high 34 points against Kentucky three days after scoring 32 in a win at LSU.

“Josh’s performance was at a high level with the shots he made — not only at the end, but at the guts of the game,” Jans said. “I don’t think there’s a moment that he fears. He loves to have the ball in his hands, and he’s very confident.”

Hubbard is surrounded by a veteran team that features two seniors and two graduate students among its key players.

“We’ve got great leadership on our team,” Jans said. “Those guys leave everything on the floor. They’re unbelievable in the huddles. They’re encouraging. … We’ll learn, we’ll grow and we’ll move on.”

Hubbard scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the Bulldogs in the first meeting against Auburn.