Mississippi State Basketball Falls to Auburn, Awaits Tournament Destination

Mississippi State basketball's time in Nashville has come to a close after a semifinal loss to Auburn. They now turn their attention to the Big Dance.

Mar 16, 2024; Nashville, TN, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Shakeel Moore (3) dribbles the
Mar 16, 2024; Nashville, TN, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Shakeel Moore (3) dribbles the / Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi State basketball fell in the 2024 SEC's Men's Basketball Tournament semifinals to the Auburn Tigers, 73-66. The Bulldogs, who reached the semifinals for the first time since 2010 after an emphatic upset over 1-seed Tennessee, battled hard with the Tigers for the entire 40 minutes in an incredibly physical and, at times, chippy affair.

State built out an early lead and was in control for the opening minutes, frustrating the Auburn offense. A run of turnovers and missed shots let the Tigers back into the game. The teams went back and forth throughout the remainder of the half, and at the break, the game was knotted at 31.

In the second half, AU took control, grabbing the lead early and ultimately never relinquishing it. The Bulldogs simply could not find much going offensively. However, a late 7-0 MSU run brought the Bulldogs within one with five minutes remaining. The Tigers quickly pushed the lead back out, and though State still found themselves in striking distance in the final minute, they couldn't close the gap.

Mississippi State basketball ends its time in Nashville with a 21-13 record.

Mississippi State basketball's defense deserves credit for another strong effort

It's rare to be pleased with a defensive effort after allowing a 50% shooting performance for the opponent, but you have to be happy with what you saw from Mississippi State basketball on defense against Auburn. Though the Tigers had a highly efficient day shooting overall, the Bulldog defense still gave them plenty of issues.

MSU was attacking on the defensive end. They forced 15 AU turnovers and posted 11 steals. They never allowed the Tigers to hot from three either, which could have been a back-breaker. They forced AU to fight for almost every bucket, which is all you can ask for. State played well on defense all three games in the SEC Tournament, and that's a positive moving forward.

Mississippi State basketball missed too many gimmes to come away with a win

This game was lost on the offensive end for MSU. State shot just 41% from the field and 20% from three. Josh Hubbard had yet another 20-point performance, but the shooter went just 1-8 from beyond the arc. Still, even with the poor three-point shooting day, State could've won this game simply by cashing in from close-range at at the line.

Mississippi State missed eight layups and 10 close-range jumpers throughout the game. Though they did a great job on the offensive glass and converted on several second-chance opportunities, you cannot afford to miss that many shots close to the basket against a defense like Auburn's. 10 missed free throws made matters worse.

The Bulldogs are good enough defensively to get away with stinkers on offense, even in the postseason. But when facing a team like Auburn without the benefit of home court advantage, defense alone isn't enough.

Mississippi State basketball now awaits NCAA Tournament destination

Mississippi State basketball entered the 2024 SEC Tournament with work to do if they wanted to return to the NCAA Tournament. At a minimum, the Bulldogs had to win their opener against LSU. And after bubble teams around the country simultaneously surged in their own conference tournaments, State truthfully needed to get a win over Tennessee to feel safe about dancing.

State did more than just winning those games. Beating LSU by 10 and then dominating a top-5 NET team in LSU removed all doubt about State. Their metrics are in a good spot, and they own an impressive group of wins. While it'd have been great to beat Auburn and play for the SEC Championship, the ultimate goal was achieved. Mississippi State will be in March Madness.

Now they wait to find out their destination in the Big Dance. The Bulldogs are likely to be either a 9 or 10-seed in the tournament. Hopefully they end up in the regional that State fans can easily flock to.