The Tigers erased a 19-point deficit in the second half against Mississippi State on Saturday, rallying for a rousing 65-62 win at the Auburn Arena, the team's first at home in SEC play this season.
"The guys didn't pack it in," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "And we haven't all year long. But all I've talked about is being mean and nasty and tough, and then come winning time, let's not break down."
Earnest Ross scored 21 points and Kenny Gabriel 18 for the Tigers (9-15, 2-8 SEC), who had shown a competitive streak the last two weeks on the road but had yet to show that same resilience at home.
They did Saturday. The 19-point comeback was Auburn's biggest since it did likewise in a 73-70 win at LSU during the 1999 SEC championship season.
"Coach told us as long as we believe, we have a chance to win and at least compete in every game," Ross said.
Auburn looked like it would fall to 0-5 at home in conference play, falling behind 51-32 with 11:24 to play thanks to a barrage of 3-pointers by Mississippi State (13-11, 5-5 SEC), which made nine in the game and got 22 points from guard Dee Bost.
The Tigers trailed 58-45 with 4:19 left but scored the next 17 points as the Bulldogs unraveled. MSU forward Kodi Augustus made a jumper but was whistled for a technical foul after some excessive jawing.
The Bulldogs wouldn't score again for four minutes, committing five turnovers and not getting off a field goal attempt.
"Those last five minutes, we just melted down," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.
Auburn got a lift from its scrappy defense down the stretch. With 3:53 left, Gabriel stole the ball from Bost, took it the length of the floor and elevated for a dunk that brought the nearly packed Auburn Arena crowd to its feet, getting as loud as it has this season.
"It was between that moment and the whole Alabama game," Gabriel said. "We're trying to get the gym like that every night."
A steal and layup by Chris Denson cut the MSU lead to 58-56. Two minutes later, Gabriel drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:18 to go, giving Auburn a 59-58 lead, its first since early in the game.
In addition to his 18 points, Gabriel had 5 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist.
"I was disappointed in Kenny's effort for the majority of the game," Barbee said. "I was on him bad. I was taking him out of the game because he wasn't giving us much, but that's the response I want. I don't want you dig a hole and disappear. I want you to respond. And he came on the floor and responded."
Ross, who topped 20 points for the sixth time this season, made two clutch free throws to make it a three-point game with 3.5 seconds left. Bost's halfcourt heave to tie the game at the final horn was too strong.
Auburn welcomed back center Rob Chubb, who missed the last two games after being suspended following his Jan. 30 arrest on four misdemeanors — disorderly conduct, public intoxication, attempting to elude a police officer and resisting arrest.
The sophomore, who apologized to the team for his actions, earned a hearty applause from the crowd and finished with 6 points and 2 rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.
"Again, disappointed in the decision that he made, but at the same time, he's a college kid," Barbee said. "And most like most college kids do, like most of us did in college, we made dumb decisions. It doesn't mean you throw him under the bus and forget about him."