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February 15, 2014

Perimeter power

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AUBURN | KT Harrell had one of the worst games of his career during Wednesday's loss to Kentucky, which promped coach Tony Barbee to say he "needs Chris Denson and (Harrell) to be big at the same time."

The Tigers' tandem listened. Denson and Harrell combined for 56 points against Mississippi State on Saturday, providing plenty of scoring punch in the team's 92-82 victory. "It's always great when the dynamic duo goes off," Denson said afterward.

Still, Harrell looked cold early with his dismal performance against the Wildcats still hovering over his head. In addition to only scoring seven points against Kentucky, Harrell came into Saturday's game 2-of-19 from beyond the arc during his previous three games.

Denson said Harrell took his recent struggles to heart, but Denson didn't let his partner to wallow in his slump.

The team needed him.

"I sent him a text after the last game saying, 'Don't worry about it, we need you next game,'" Denson said. "He promised never to play like that again."

Still, shaking a slump is never easy.

Harrell began the game 0-for-3 from the floor and his team suffered for it.

Mississippi State (13-12, 3-9) opened the game 7-of-9 from the field and Denson's two early fouls had earned him a spot on the bench with Auburn down 19-12.

Harrell then found his stroke.

"When I was on the bench we went through a stretch where nothing was clicking offensively," Denson said. "KT knew that and he took over."

Ten minutes into the game, Harrell made two free throws, his first points of the game. From there, he scored 12 of his team's next 18 points to help Auburn claim a lead it would not concede.

Auburn ended the first half on a 28-6 run overall with Denson scoring the final six points of the half.

Tahj Shamsid-Deen opened the second half with a three-pointer. On the next possession, Harrell lined up and sank a shot of his own from beyond the arc -- his first since Feb. 8 against LSU.

"I'm a shooter," Harrell said about continuing to find his range again. "Shooters go through slumps sometimes. I knew I had a bad game, but it's not about one game defining you. It's about how you bounce back."

Harrell bounced back with 26 points to go with Denson's 30.

Auburn's star guards weren't the only major contributors Saturday. Senior forward Allen Payne added 14 points and Shamsid-Deen finished with 10.

After getting the lead from the Bulldogs, Auburn did the little things to keep it.

The Tigers went 37-of-41 from the free throw line and shot 51 percent from the floor.

They also managed to turn 21 Mississippi State turnovers into 30 points -- many of them in transition. That was an important trend, but Harrell's resurgence may mean more in the long run.

"It's great," Denson said about seeing Harrell's shot falling again. "Great, great, great."

Auburn (12-11, 4-8) will resume play Wednesday at No. 3 Florida and look to avenge a seven-point loss in January.



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