Fortunately, Alabama on a bad night is better than Mississippi State, and the Crimson Tide took a 64-56 win in Coleman Coliseum Wednesday night.
Bama remains in second place in the Southeastern Conference, a game behind Florida (which lost to Missouri Tuesday night). The Tide is now 18-8 overall and 10-3 in SEC games. The Bulldogs fell to 7-18 overall, 2-11 in the conference.
Alabama now has a modest four-game winning streak. Mississippi State has now lost 11 in a row, going back to a 75-43 Alabama win over the Bulldogs in Starkville on Jan. 16.
After its two-game homestand, Bama is back on the road Saturday, playing at LSU with tipoff at 12:30 and the game televised on the SEC Network. The Tide returns to Tuscaloosa to host Auburn at 6 p.m. next Tuesday.
One player who didn’t have a case of the mugwamps for Bama was Rodney Cooper. The sophomore guard had his first career double-double, making 7-10 field goals (2-3 on three-pointers) and pulling down 10 rebounds to be high man on the court in both categories.
In addition to Cooper, the Tide got 17 points from Trevor Releford, who keyed an important run in the late going, and 11 from Trevor Lacey. Mississippi State was led by Jalen Steele, who was reinstated from suspension for the game, with 15 points, and Colin Borchert with 14.
A key to the game was Bama taking advantage of 23 Mississippi State turnovers for 23 points. Alabama had 14 turnovers, but the Bulldogs managed only 7 points off them.
Late in the second half, it looked like the game might go down to the wire as the Tide had only a four-point lead. Then as the game approached the final minute, Bama extended its lead to 15 points. Mississippi State made it interesting with three three-point shots – two of them after taking the ball away from the Tide on inbounds plays – in the final minute.
Alabama hit 20-51 from the field, 39.2 per cent, and only 3-15 on treys, 20 per cent, but made 21-27 free throws, 77.8 per cent. The Bulldogs had more points from the field, making 20-48 field goals (41.7 per cent) and 6-20 three-pointers (30 per cent), but managed only 10-15 on foul shots. The Bulldogs won the rebounding battle, 33-31.
Alabama scored 30 points in the paint, Mississippi State only 16, and the Tide won the fast break points battle, 12-2.
The Bulldogs had only one lead in the game, 2-2, and there was one lead change, when Cooper hit an early trey for a 5-2 Tide advantage. Alabama led 31-20 at halftime.
Five minutes into the second half Bama’s lead was still just 11 points and the Bulldogs had it down to 4 points at 47-43 with just over five minutes to play.
But Cooper hit a three-pointer and then Retin Obasohan made a steal and a feed to Lacey for a lay-up and Alabama had it back out to a nine-point lead at 52-43.
The Tide then began to pull away with Releford making a steal and coast-to-coast layup with 2:45 and Releford giving off to Cooper for a fast break dunk to make it 56-45 with 2:18 to play.
Down the stretch Bama got four free throws from Releford, two from Pollard, and two from Obasohan.
Alabama had a 31-20 lead at halftime on the strength of a strong finish. For most of the first half both teams were getting decent shots and neither team was shooting very well. The Tide led by only four points, 19-15, inside the five-minute mark, but outscored the Bulldogs 12-3 until State’s Gavin Ware tipped one in with 37 seconds to play. (As usual, Alabama had no apparent plan for a last possession shot and missed a long prayer at the buzzer.)
Releford was the only Tider hitting over 50 per cent at the half (3-5) as Bama managed only 34.5 per cent from the field and only 2-10 on three-point attempts. But State was making only 30.8 per cent of its shots.
The Bulldogs drew first blood on a short jumper by Craig Sword, but Rodney Cooper tied it seconds later with a pair of free throws and then gave Bama the lead for good on a three-pointer a moment later.
Turnovers were key for Alabama in the first half. The Bulldogs had 9 turnovers and the Tide scored 11 points off those miscues. Bama had five turnovers, none leading to Mississippi State points.
TIDE NOTES: Alabama’s starting lineup was junior center Mousa Gueye with junior guard Trevor Releford and sophomore guards Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph, and Rodney Cooper.
Although it had been expected that Mississippi State would have only five scholarshipped players, the Bulldogs had six as Jalen Steele returned from suspension. Steele did not start, but did play.
This is the second time in the last three years Alabama has swept Mississippi State in regular season play. Bama has now won five of the last six games in the series, which is 190 games. Alabama has played no other team that many times. The Tide leads the series, 117-73. Bama is now 74-16 in games against the Bulldogs in Tuscaloosa, including 37-8 in Coleman Coliseum. Bama has won five straight games in Coleman against State, which has not won in Tuscaloosa since 2008.
The 10th SEC win of the year assures Alabama of a winning conference record for the third straight season. Bama has won 10 of its last 12 games.
Alabama has held 18 of its 26 opponents this season under 60 points, including 11 straight conference foes to under 60.