Auburn beats MSU in season finale, win No. 600 for Pearl

AUBURN, Ala. – Allen Flanigan scored 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to lead Auburn to a season-ending 78-71 win over Mississippi State Saturday at Auburn Arena, giving Bruce Pearl career victory No. 600.

“It was really good to finish up winning two of our last three, particularly winning these last two games at home against Tennessee and a good Mississippi State team,” Pearl said. “Our guys continue to compete. We finished on a high note.”

Jaylin Williams scored 12 of his 18 after intermission, making 5 of 7 shots in the second half as the Tigers outscored the Bulldogs 46-37 over the final 20 minutes to defeat MSU for the eighth time in their past nine meetings on the Plains.

After misfiring on 17 first-half 3-pointers while sinking six, the Tigers shot 5-of-10 from behind the line in the second half, including Dylan Cardwell’s first 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring.

Playing point guard for the injured Sharife Cooper, Jamal Johnson led Auburn with four 3-pointers, scored 14 points and dished seven assists.

“It was new for me and refreshing, the first couple games,” Johnson said. “I want to stay poised and get everybody a lot of shots, keep the ball moving and execute the offense as fast as possible.”

JT Thor added 10 points and led the Tigers with nine rebounds.

Trailing by four, Cardwell grabbed a deflected inbounds pass and swished his first 3-point attempt to beat the clock and pull Auburn within one point at 46-45.

After Johnson’s 3-pointer tied the score at 50-50, Flanigan scored Auburn’s next seven points on two drives off the glass and a 3-pointer.

“I knew the game was close and I had to step up and start making plays,” Flanigan said. “I just took advantage of how guys were closing out and playing me.”

Another clock-beating Flanigan 3-pointer put Auburn ahead 67-61, then the sophomore added an exclamation point with a thunderous dunk that gave the Tigers a 72-65 lead with 1:16 to play.

Auburn trailed 34-32 at the half after State (14-13, 8-10) erased the Tigers’ 9-point lead, ending the half on a 10-2 run with a 3-point bank shot in the final second.

Thor dazzled in the first half with eight points, six rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists. Thor assisted on 3-pointers by Devan Cambridge and Williams to give Auburn a 27-18 lead. From the left corner, he faked a 3-pointer and drove for a baseline dunk that put Auburn ahead 32-28 before State’s late rally.

Pearl has won 138 games in seven seasons at Auburn, adding to his 145 victories at Tennessee, 86 at Milwaukee and 231 at Southern Indiana.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” said Pearl, a head coach for 26 seasons. “I’m grateful to my players, coaches, staff, managers, the athletic directors who have hired me and retained me, the fans for trusting me to lead their programs. I’m truly grateful, humble, blessed.

“I keep score, and 600 is a big number; 700 would be even better.”

Having self-imposed a postseason ban, the Tigers (13-14, 7-11) will miss next week’s SEC Tournament. With every player eligible to return next season, Auburn will look to maximize a five-week training period in the spring ahead of a promising 2021-22 season.

“I’m optimistic,” Pearl said. “We’ve got to develop, we’ve got to grow. I’m very excited the kids we’ve got coming in. I’m very excited about the guys we’ve got returning. We’ve got a lot of stuff to do to become a championship team.”