Get this—if Alabama wins the rest of its games, it has a chance to be at the top of the SEC, either in sole possession of first place or tied with Florida, heading into the conference tournament.
After tonight’s 64-56 win over Mississippi State, the Crimson Tide (18-8, 10-3 SEC) is still in second place in the conference, but after the Gators lost on the road to Missouri 63-60 Tuesday, all Alabama has to do is win its five remaining regular season games and it could find itself in a first-place tie with UF. In fact, if the Tide beats Florida on March 2 in Gainesville, they could be the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament.
Since falling to Auburn in embarrassing fashion several weeks ago—a 49-37 loss on the road, scoring just 14 points in the second half—Alabama has gone 4-0. Its five remaining games are at LSU this Saturday, at home against Auburn next week, back-to-back road games against Florida and Ole Miss and then the regular season finale at home against Georgia.
Florida is 11-2 in the SEC after its loss to Mizzou Tuesday. The Gators still have to host Arkansas, who previously beat them 80-69 on Feb. 5, and Vanderbilt, and take trips to Tennessee and Kentucky.
Throughout the season, Alabama head coach Anthony Grant has preached the “one game at a time” mantra as to not look ahead. After Wednesday night’s win, he put where his team stands moving forward into perspective.
“I see it for what it is,” he said. “We’re 10-3, but it’s fragile because it has been one or two possession games that we have been fortunate to win. There’s not a lot of difference when you look at one team, us, that’s in second place, and a team that’s in last place. There’s not a lot of difference.”
Although Alabama’s record indicates success, Grant isn’t happy with his players’ outlook. He doesn’t see enough urgency, he doesn’t see anyone wanting to be an overachiever.
“You gotta have ownership,” he said.
The last time Alabama played MSU (7-18, 2-11) it won by 32 (75-43 win in Starkville). Wednesday, the Tide was up all game, but only won by eight. At one point the Bulldogs were only down by four in the second half.
“Maybe we underestimated their fight,” Grant said. “[Mississippi State] played with a purpose tonight and teams like that are dangerous. It’s not about talent. It’s the effort, the passion, the togetherness. That’s the beauty of a team sport.”
Despite perhaps overlooking the opponent, Alabama did have a star in Rodney Cooper, who recorded a his first career double-double, scoring 20 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and adding three steals, in addition to going a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line. He didn’t commit a single turnover, either.
Cooper, who had a wide smile across his face in the post-game news conference, said he didn’t even know he had 10 rebounds until after the game.
“I’m proud,” he said.
Trevor Releford had an impressive stat line as well, scoring 17 points, getting five rebounds, five assists and five steals.
“Rodney tonight did an outstanding job,” Grant said. “He brought the energy and the passion that we needed. I thought Trevor’s energy, he was locked in and brought it.”
Seven different guys scored for the Tide, which is more than the number of scholarship players on Mississippi State’s roster (six). But Alabama still only shot 39.2 percent from the floor and only went 3-15 from the perimeter.
Six players had steals for Alabama, with Releford and Retin Obasohan each tallying five. The team finished the night with 18; MSU had nine.
Alabama scored 23 points off MSU’s 23 turnovers and outscored the Bulldogs 30-16 in the paint.
It was only the second time in the past month Alabama scored more than 60 points.
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