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Bruce Pearl previews Mississippi State, approves of AD John Cohen's handling of facilities' decisions thus far

Justin Hokansonby:Justin Hokanson01/26/24


AUBURN — No. 8 Auburn (16-3, 5-1) travels to Mississippi State (13-6, 2-4) on Saturday to face another awfully tough road test, this time at a place where not even Tennessee came away with a win.

Pearl spoke to the media on Friday about the upcoming game, and also provided some perspective on facilities, mainly the need for a basketball-only practice facility in the face of football likely receiving a new north end zone videoboard.

Pearl and the team stayed in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday night and traveled to Starkville on Thursday.

“We knew the challenge we were facing on this trip with two really good teams. Mississippi State is 7-2 at home and has a great win over Tennessee, who had demonstrated they are the best team in our league, and they have a close loss at home to Alabama. Tolu Smith is a dominating inside player. He and Johni Broome are two of the best bigs in the SEC. It’s not Tolu versus Johni (Broome), it’s Auburn versus Mississippi State. Coach Jans has done an outstanding job. Great hire by Mississippi State and great hire by John Cohen, the athletic director at Auburn now.

“It was a great crowd at Alabama, but this one is a hard sellout. I’ve not been to Starkville when the game is sold-out. That has something to do with us coming in ranked, and a lot to do with their team. They are one of the older teams in college basketball with postseason aspirations.”

Mississippi State ranks as a top-25 defensive nationally in efficiency.

“Mississippi State is one of the best defensive teams in our league, therefore one of the best defensive teams in the country. They play with great pressure on the ball. (Alabama) bothered us a little bit.”

Pearl mentioned that his team was in good spirits during halftime at Alabama, despite being down by 14 points. Entering another tough road test, Pearl said his team is still in a good place mentally, but is looking for more consistent play in the face of adversity.

“The league is a grind. They were disappointed. There is good news and bad news. We didn’t play well, Alabama had a lot to do with that. We made some bad decisions, we turned the ball over, we didn’t guard them great, but they still shot 38 percent, 79 in their building, maybe the second or third lowest they’ve scored in their building. We thought we could have played better. I thought our big men, Dylan and Johni, were outstanding as far as their defense. I think walking away going we had a chance to win.

“Close losses on the road are not going to hurt your analytics, which are important. We didn’t play well, so we have to play better. This will not be any easier. We’ve had more success historically against Mississippi State, but I don’t think that matters as much. I think we’re a good team. I think our guys have played pretty well to their ability. Can you play well when the competition steps up? That’s the challenge. Can we play that way against Alabama at Alabama? Against Mississippi State at Mississippi State? How will adversity effect us? I think the team’s spirits are still high.”

In light of the Auburn Board of Trustees scheduled to approve a new north end zone videoboard in their next meeting on February 2, Pearl was asked about the need for a new practice facility and his impressions of decisions made by AD John Cohen right now.

“I think every decision that John Cohen has made about what facilities we need to upgrade, if I was in his position, I would do everything he was doing in the timeline that he’s doing them. The board approved the basketball facility back in 2019 or 2020, but several things have changed after Covid and NIL. It’s not that the basketball facility or improvements at Neville don’t need to be improved, it’s just that some of those, the best way I can tell our fans or sports, was when our project was up next, let’s call timeout and get some of these other things right first.

“With that, I think the direction we’re going is the right direction. We’ll get there. We’ll revamp Neville, the practice facility situation, and it is important. It’s the most used building in the athletic department and whatever the second-most used building is isn’t even close.”

Back to basketball, Auburn allowed five offensive rebounds in the final nine minutes against Alabama that resulted in 11 points for the Tide. It was a big reason why Auburn lost the game. Meanwhile, Mississippi State comes in with a top-35 offensive rebounding percentage and Pearl knows it’ll be another big challenge.

“It’s a huge factor. That hurt us against Alabama when they were playing small ball. That is obviously a huge concern. Mississippi State is going to be running to the boards. Our smaller guards have to do a better job of keeping them off the boards. We have to rebound better. It’ll absolutely be our number one concern against the best teams on our schedule. I hate to be right sometimes, but my concern with where we were early in the year with our defensive rebounding.”

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