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Auburn falls to No. 22 Mississippi State, 91-88

Auburn enjoyed its best offensive game of the season against Mississippi State.

The problem is it coincided with quite possibly the Tigers' worst defensive performance.

The result was a 91-88 loss to the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs that had Auburn coach Tony Barbee hopeful and frustrated at the same time.

"We made shots but we didn't defend," Barbee said. "Hopefully this kind of output will lead to more confidence and spark more offensive production like this. But we can't give up 60 percent shooting to win a game."

Arnett Moultrie scored 21 points, Renardo Sidney added 17 and Mississippi State (18-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) won for the fifth time in seven games.

While the Bulldogs' big men were productive, it was Dee Bost's three consecutive 3-pointers to open the second half that turned Mississippi State's 44-43 halftime deficit into a 52-44 lead. The Bulldogs never trailed again, shooting a torrid 60.4 percent (29 of 48) from the field, including 63.2 percent (12 of 19) from 3-point range.

That kind of shooting touch usually indicates an easy game. But Mississippi State still had to sweat out the final minutes due to some missed free throws and defensive lapses.

"We got the ball around the hole a bunch and we got fouled a bunch," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "We just didn't make our (free throws) and get separation like we needed to."

Bost finished with 15 points, making 4 of 6 from beyond the 3-point line while also adding seven assists. Rodney Hood added 11.

Mississippi State got off to a good start on its three-game homestand that continues Thursday against rival Mississippi. But Auburn made things interesting in the final minutes — and Mississippi State seemed almost intent on helping the Tigers back into the game.

Hood got a technical foul while Bost and Moultrie fouled Auburn shooters on 3-point attempts. Bost's foul was particularly harmful, because it meant he fouled out with 3:26 remaining. The Bulldogs don't have another healthy true point guard, making do with Brian Bryant and Steele handling the responsibilities.

Then there was the Bulldogs' sometimes shaky defense.

"Offensively, Auburn can get on a roll, and they got on a roll tonight," Stansbury said. "They got to the free throw line against us more than any other team (this season) and that's a bad stat."

Auburn (13-10, 3-6) was led by Varez Ward, who scored a season-high 24 points off the bench. Kenny Gabriel added 22 points and 11 rebounds. Though the loss was disappointing, Ward said the Tigers' up-tempo offense was a pleasant change.

"This is definitely something we can do more, especially with the athletic players we have," Ward said.

Auburn's 88 points were a season high. The Tigers fought back from a 13-point deficit, but simply couldn't make enough stops on the defensive end to get a road victory.

Bost is a 6-foot-2 senior who is moving higher on Mississippi State's career record lists with each passing game, but his final season has been a bit of a struggle, especially when it concerns his shooting touch. He was making just 38.6 percent from the field this season, including 32.9 percent from 3-point range before Saturday's outburst.

Moultrie was his usual productive self, going 7 of 13 from the field and 7 of 11 from the free-throw line. He also grabbed seven rebounds.

Sidney had one of his most productive games of the season, making all five of his shots, including a 3-pointer

Mississippi State led for much of the first half, shooting 63 percent. But Auburn was nearly as good, making 53.6 percent (15 of 28) of its field goal attempts, including a 3-pointer by Gabriel at the buzzer that gave the Tigers their lead.

The Bulldogs had a week of rest coming into Saturday's game, and needed it considering injuries and ineffective bench players have limited Stansbury's playing rotation to seven players.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: (at)davidbrandt