- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - After more than 30 minutes sitting on the bench, Mississippi State’s Tyson Cunningham had every reason to come into the game cold and tentative.

Instead, the senior guard made three huge plays that helped the Bulldogs hang on for an 82-74 victory over Auburn on Wednesday night.

Mississippi State (13-5, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) led by 10 points midway through the second half before Auburn rallied and Chris Denson’s layup cut it to 59-58 with 4:35 remaining.

But the little-used Cunningham scored the next five points - and then took a charge on the other end - to help the Bulldogs hold on for the victory.

“It speaks volumes about Tyson as a person and being prepared,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “He’s the one guy on our team who is always in the gym working on his shot, working on his game. So when you work like that, you’re able to come into a pressurized situation and have success.”

Roquez Johnson led the Bulldogs with 18 points while Colin Borchert added 17. Johnson made 4 of 7 shots from the field, but did most of his work on free throws, hitting 10 of 16

Cunningham’s five minutes on the court were arguably the most important. The former walk-on is averaging just 1.5 points per game, but he made two free throws and then nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to push the lead back to 64-58.

A few seconds later, he stood his ground when Auburn’s KT Harrell slashed toward the basket, drawing the charge. Auburn never threatened again.

“I was just at the right spots at the right time,” Cunningham said. “I’m just grateful to help this team get a win.”

Auburn (8-8, 0-5) has lost five straight. Harrell led the Tigers with 24 points and Tahj Shamsid-Deen added 17.

Mississippi State has beaten Auburn 13 out of the last 14 times at Humphrey Coliseum.

“I’m happy that our guys found a way to win this game,” Ray said. “We had a comedy of errors on defense down the stretch, but even with all those errors, we were able to persevere.”

It’s been an agonizing three weeks of basketball for Auburn, which has lost all five of its SEC games. All of them have been competitive.

The Tigers jumped out to an 8-0 lead and led for most of the first half before things fell apart. Mississippi State went on a 20-4 run to turn a 21-14 deficit into a 34-25 advantage by halftime. Craig Sword’s steal and dunk with just three seconds left in the half finalized the impressive rally.

Borchert had 11 first-half points, including three 3-pointers, which were critical in helping the Bulldogs pull out of the early hole.

Borchert and Johnson helped Mississippi State shrug off a tough offensive night for Sword and Gavin Ware, the team’s top two scorers.

“They did a great job of having a good front line when Gavin was out of there,” Ray said.

Sword shot just 1-of-6 from the field and scored six points while Ware was limited to just four minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. Ware’s back-to-back buckets midway through the second half helped the Bulldogs push out to a 51-41 lead.

Auburn had one run remaining. The Tigers scored the next eight points, using a full-court press defense that forced Mississippi State into some bad decisions and turnovers. Denson’s layup cut the lead to 59-58 and things looked good for the Tigers.

“We had our moments,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “But we didn’t have enough of them.”

Harrell finished 9 of 17 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. Asauhn Dixon-Tatum had 12 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.

Mississippi State’s bench outscored Auburn’s 28-0.


Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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