Alabama Is Close, But Falls At State

After Alabama started the Southeastern Conference basketball season with two wins, it was obvious that the schedule took a step up. Conventional wisdom had it that Bama needed to win two of the next three games to establish the Crimson Tide as a legitimate title contender.

The first of those three was a road game, but seemed to offer reasonable chance at success. It wasn't to be. Alabama went to Mississippi State Saturday and had too many lapses to get that valuable road victory. The Bulldogs went most of the game unable to hit a three-point shot, but nailed them in the final minutes and escaped with a 56-52 victory.

With the loss, Bama dropped to 13-4 overall and 2-1 in SEC games. Mississippi State, ranked 20th in the nation, improved to 15-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference.

Alabama next hosts Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. CST Thursday at Coleman Coliseum, and follows that with a road game at Kentucky a week from today.

Alabama twice dug out of deep holes to take the lead against the Bulldogs, but the Tide was unable to take advantage of a late lead in the game. Up by three points the Tide missed a shot and watched as the Bulldogs got their first three-pointer of the game to tie the score. A Tide turnover was followed by another Mississippi State trey by Dee Bost, who had a pair of treys in the late going. Alabama was within one point at 52-53 in the final seconds, but pressing the inbounds pass allowed the Dogs to get a run-out layup and free throw for the final four-point margin.

Alabama had its hands full with 6-11 junior State newcomer Arnett Moultrie, who had 25 points and 13 rebounds.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said, "Give Mississippi State credit. They did a good job at the end making the plays they needed to make to come out with the win. Dee Bost has done it his whole career and he stepped up and made big shots. We had opportunities and I'm proud of the way our guys fought. This is an opportunity for us to learn from this and understand life in the SEC.

Alabama had fought back from a 10-point second half deficit to take a three point lead at 48-45 with less than three minutes to play. Back-to-back three-pointers by Bost first tied the game then put State ahead 51-48. JaMychal Green, who would lead Alabama in scoring with 14 points, made two free throws to pull the Tide to within a point with a minute left.

After both teams missed a shot, Mississippi State's Brian Bryant went by the Tide defense for an easy basket and a 53-50 lead. Bama played for a quick two-point basket and got it from Trevor Lacey. Alabama had to make a steal on the inbounds play, and instead Bryant broke away for a layup and was fouled as the shot fell. He converted the free throw with a second left in the game.

Moultrie scored 14 points and had eight rebounds in the first half as the Bulldogs took a six-point halftime lead at 27-21.

Bama played a strong second half with just one turnover. Additionally, the Tide was finally able to get some offense close the basket, outscoring Mississippi State 24-14 in the paint in the second half.

State had taken a 14-6 lead to start the game after running off eight consecutive points, but the Tide was able to battle back into the lead before fading just before intermission. In the second half, the Bulldogs had another quick start to a 33-23 lead, but the Tide tied the game at 40-40 and took the lead at 42-40.

Tony Mitchell had eight points and 10 rebounds for the Tide. Lacey had eight points. Bost had 17 for Mississippi State.

Although there were very few fouls in the game, the difference in the game was at the free throw line. The Bulldogs were whistled for only nine personal fouls, one of them by design at the end of the game, and Alabama had only five opportunities, making all five of them. The Dogs made 9-12 shots. Alabama hit 23-51 from the field (45.1 per cent) and the Bulldogs made 22-55 (40 per cent). Bama made only 1-9 three-point shots, while Mississippi State hit 3-17 (17.6 per dent) after opening the game with 14 straight misses on treys.

The game was tied seven times and there were 10 lead changes.

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