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Auburn eliminates Mississippi St in SEC tourney

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Auburn coach Bruce Pearl reminded his Tigers of just how long it’s been since their program had won at the Southeastern Conference tournament. They also hadn’t won a game – period – since Valentine’s Day.

The Tigers ended both skids Wednesday night.

K.C. Ross-Miller scored 21 points, and Auburn beat Mississippi State 74-68 in the opener for the Tigers’ first SEC tournament win since 2009 while snapping a six-game skid.

“We’re still here, and that’s a step in the right direction,” first-year coach Pearl said.

The 13th-seeded Tigers (13-19) hadn’t won since edging Georgia on Feb. 14. Now they will play No. 5 seed Texas A&M on Thursday afternoon.

“It feels amazing,” Auburn senior KT Harrell said. “You lose a lot of close games, a lot of tough ones, and when you finally get to pull it out, especially here in the tournament, it’s an amazing feeling. Coach told us to celebrate for a little while, but be ready to play tomorrow. So we will.”

Harrell finished 19 points for Auburn, and reserve Alex Thompson scored a career-high 16 points, hitting all three 3-pointers.

Craig Sword scored 21 points for No. 12-seeded Mississippi State (13-19). I.J. Ready added 18.

“I thought we could take the next step in the program here and have a chance to win a couple ballgames here at the SEC tournament,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “The past couple years we won our first game and went on to lose our second game. But I was looking forward to hopefully continuing to stay here and winning more games.”

Mississippi State rallied after trailing by 11 points and last led 65-64 on a dunk by Sword with 4:17 left. The Bulldogs hit only one more shot down the stretch as Auburn finished the game on a 10-3 run.

Auburn took control right before the buzzer at the end of the first half. Harrell ended a 10-2 run by Mississippi State with a 3 to pull the Tigers within 36-34 at halftime. Auburn picked up where it left off, outscoring the Bulldogs 22-9 to start the second half.

Ross-Miller hit two free throws capping the spurt with 11:37 left, giving Auburn its biggest lead at 56-45. The Bulldogs finally started clicking again and reeled off a 16-3 run with Ready’s jumper putting Mississippi State up 61-59 with 7:09 to go.

The teams swapped the lead back and forth before Harrell’s layup with 3:45 left gave Auburn the lead for good. Ross-Miller scored the final five points for Auburn.

TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer