*Courtesy Auburn Media Relations*
AUBURN, Ala. -- KT Harrell took a rare off-target midweek game against Kentucky quite hard, hard enough for teammate Chris Denson to reach out to him.
"I sent him a text after the last game and said, 'don't worry about it...we need you in the next game.'"
Did Harrell respond? "Look at his performance."
Look indeed. Harrell scored 26 points and Denson blasted his way to 30 more as Auburn's dynamic shooting guards helped the Tigers past Mississippi State 92-82 Saturday in Auburn Arena.
Denson's post-game analysis of Harrell's play?
"It was great, great, great."
Harrell, who had scored in double figures in every game before being held to seven against Kentucky on Wednesday, had 14 by the half as the Tigers overcame a fast Mississippi State start.
"I'm a really a confident player," Harrell said. "It's not about one game defining you. It's about how you bounce back that defines you.
"I'm a shooter. Shooters go through slumps sometimes. But the important thing is to stay confident and keep shooting."
Harrell did. And Denson did. They combined to fire it up 28 times, hitting 16 of them. They were also a combined 23-of-25 from the free throw line. Denson and Harrell, one of the highest scoring tandems in the nation, combined for a season-high 56.
"That's their jobs on this team," said coach Tony Barbee. "But it has to be a team that is more than Chris Denson and KT Harrell. We had four guys in double figures. It's good to see those guys step up."
Auburn won for the fourth time in its last six SEC games to improve to 12-11 overall and 4-8 in the league with a game at Florida on Wednesday. State lost its seventh straight game to fall to 13-12 overall and 3-9 in the conference.
It was a game for Auburn fans to cheer the win, to salute the basketball lettermen who returned for the game and to go crazy when fan Patrick Burch made a 94-foot putt during a timeout to win a new car from Lynch Toyota.
Auburn had a comfortable lead in a second half that dragged because of fouls. Six players fouled out, including four Tigers. Auburn hit 37-of-41 free throw throws. The 37 free throws were two off the school record set against Mississippi State in 1959.
The game featured an early dramatic shift. Mississippi State couldn't miss -- or just barely could -- in the early going. The Bulldogs hit seven of their first nine shots for a sizzling 78 percent and a quick lead.
The game was tied at 22-all with 7:38 left in the first half. Anybody's game? Not really. Auburn promptly outscored State 18-3 to close out the first half. By the time the half was over, State had cooled off to 44 percent from the field. The Bulldogs found the shooting edge to start the second half, hitting their first five shots. But Auburn was on target, too, preventing State from making a serious run.