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NCAA Basketball

No. 22 Auburn seek homecourt edge in visit to Mississippi State

Bruce Pearl is taking his Auburn Tigers and their No. 22 ranking on the road this weekend.

He's also bringing some of his homecourt advantage with him when his team travels to take on Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday.

"We've got at least two buses of students heading west," Pearl said Thursday, according to the website SEC Country. "That's really exciting for our students and for our fans. It's not going to win or lose us the game, but it'll really improve the environment."

Pearl is trying to mimic with his basketball program what SEC football manages to generate: traveling fans.

"It just makes each environment very bowl-like, very tournament-like," Pearl said. "Like the NCAA Tournament, it's not (like) the place is full and we've got 20 people sitting behind our bench, maybe, and that's it. That doesn't make for as competitive an environment."

Auburn (15-1, 3-0 SEC) is ranked this week for the first time in 15 years and has won 13 straight games, the nation's second-longest streak after West Virginia's 14 straight wins.

Despite the winning streak, Pearl got a piece of bad news Thursday.

The NCAA ruled that Tigers center Austin Wiley, the 2016-17 starter who hasn't played this season, will not be eligible until 2018-19. Third-year sophomore Danjel Purifoy was also ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season.

The ruling came after Auburn self-reported violations involving recruiting, extra benefits and agent-related activity.

Pearl was not happy.

"I'm very disappointed in the NCAA's decision that was made today regarding Austin," Pearl said Thursday night, according to the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser. "He is a terrific kid, and he is a victim in this.

"We've been hit in the mouth, hit in the gut. The hardest thing is that (Wiley) can't be out there with is, and that's the same thing with Daniel. He wants to be out there helping."

On Tuesday, the Tigers overcame a 10-point halftime deficit by outscoring Mississippi 50-25 in the second half of a 75-60 win that left Pearl perplexed.

"Usually (I am) able to come in and explain how we were able to win a game. I not sure on this night that I can," Pearl told the Advertiser. "I don't think there is any question that we guarded them in the second half and we wore them down."

Mississippi State (13-3, 1-2), which has dropped consecutive games after a 13-1 start to the season, had the opposite experience against the Rebels on Saturday.

The Bulldogs blew a 50-39 lead over the game's final 10 minutes and lost to the Rebels, 64-58.

"We're a young team," Bulldogs coach Ben Howland told the (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. "We've got to make better decisions with leads late in games."

Mississippi State will also need better offensive efforts from the Weatherspoon brothers.

Quinndary Weatherspoon, the Bulldogs' leading scorer (14.4 points per game), and Nick Weatherspoon (third at 11.1) were a combined 6-for-22 in the loss as Mississippi State missed all 13 of its 3-point attempts in the second half.

"I still think that we can get a lot better than we are," he said. "When you look at our shooting, we need to be patient when we don't have the push game."

Quinndary Weatherspoon bounced back to score 16 in a 71-54 Wednesday loss at Florida. The Bulldogs shot 40 percent and allowed a 27-7 run during the second half.

The Bulldogs have another home game on Tuesday against Vanderbilt.

Auburn plays at in-state rival Alabama on Wednesday.

Updated January 12, 2018

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