Auburn bounces back in Overtime to beat Mississippi State
STARKVILLE, Miss. – K.D. Johnson scored 12 points in overtime to lead No. 5 Auburn to an 81-68 victory over Mississippi State Wednesday at Humphrey Coliseum, clinching a share of the Southeastern Conference season championship.
“This is probably one of the best regular-season wins I’ve had in a long career, to win a championship on the road at a really good place against a really good team and a really good coach, with our backs against the wall,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Our guys wanted this championship. Mississippi State wasn’t going to give it to us, and we took it. Everybody contributed. A great, great win for Auburn basketball.”
Johnson scored seven consecutive points on a layup, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to give Auburn a 68-62 lead with 3:15 remaining in overtime. He finished with 14 points and three assists.
“I live for those moments,” Johnson said. “It’s a blessing. We decided to catch fire at the right time and get the W.”
“That’s just the type of player he is,” Jabari Smith said of Johnson. “He has extreme confidence, and we have extreme confidence in him. We’re proud of him and we thank him for that.”
“K.D. took the game over,” Pearl said. “That’s a function of his courage and ability. He still had something left.”
Smith culminated another huge game with a drive and dunk with 21 seconds left, emphatically slamming the door on Auburn’s fourth regular season SEC title. Smith led the Tigers 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, adding 10 rebounds.
“Happy to win on the road,” Smith said. “It felt good knowing that team has lost only once at home in SEC play. We stayed together, battled back and won. It felt great.”
Trailing by two in the final minute, Smith hit a jumper to tie it at 61-61 with 51 seconds left. After Auburn got a stop, Smith’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer missed the mark, sending the game to OT.
“We buckled down on defense,” Smith said. “Everything else took care of itself.”
Auburn (26-4, 14-3) tied the program record with its sixth SEC road win and 14th conference win. The Tigers can claim the outright SEC championship with a victory at home Saturday vs. South Carolina.
“All the work we’ve put in has paid off,” Smith said. “We’re excited to see how much better we can get. Just keep playing and get better.”
The thousands of Auburn fans in attendance chanted “S-E-C, S-E-C!” in the closing seconds of overtime in celebration.
“I’m happy for Auburn,” Pearl said. “This is our third championship in four years. You feel a responsibility to try to reward this Auburn family for all of their support. They wanted to see history made. They wanted to be here when we won this championship. I’m grateful.”
Mississippi State used a 13-0 run to lead 54-49, the Bulldogs’ first lead of the game, but Auburn answered on back-to-back 3-pointers by Smith and Devan Cambridge to go ahead 57-56 with 4:43 to play.
Smith made all five of his first-half shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, to help Auburn build a 19-point lead late State closed on a 6-0 run to pull within 12 at 40-28 at the half.
“I felt like I was in a groove in the first half,” Smith said. “I’m happy we got the win.”
Zep Jasper hit his first three 3-point attempts. Auburn shot 50 percent in the half on 3s (7 of 14) while the Bulldogs were 0-for-9. Jasper hit back-to-back 3s to give the Tigers an early double-digit lead at 23-10. Jasper finished with 11 points and added three assists.
Dylan Cardwell was 3-for-3 in the half to help the Tigers shoot 55.6 percent. Walker Kessler grabbed 10 rebounds. Wendell Green Jr. led Auburn with seven assists.
Auburn closes out the regular season Saturday at noon CT against South Carolina in the first game in Neville Arena, which will be formally renamed on Friday.