The win raises Bama's overall record to 13-10, 5-7 in the SEC, leaving its post-season hopes still breathing. Mississippi State suffered only its second loss of the season. Their record now stands at 21-2, 10-2 in conference. Next up for Alabama will be a tough road test at Auburn on Tuesday, but for now Head Coach Mark Gottfried is celebrating with his team.
"We'll enjoy it tonight, but we've got a great challenge ahead on Tuesday," Gottfried said after the game. "But what a phenomenal win for us. We've got to take this and go forward. Keep working on things and getting better."
The Bulldogs had been a team on fire, playing like the best team in the SEC, which is clearly what they had been all season. But Alabama stepped on the floor of Humphrey Coliseum unafraid. Thanks to excellent offense from both Chuck Davis and Kennedy Winston early on, Alabama either led or kept the game close for most of the first half.
In fact, it took a three-point shot at the end to give MSU a one point lead, 33-32 at the half.
"I got going early," Winston said afterwards. "I credit my teammates. They kept getting me the ball. I made some big shots, but everybody did in the second half. Everybody did their job."
On the road in an extremely hostile environment, conventional wisdom held that the Tide would fold under State's second-half pressure. But the opposite occurred. Draining four three-pointers in the process, Bama started the second stanza with a 12-0 run, grabbing a lead with a stranglehold that it refused to relinquish.
"It was a great, great team win," Gottfried said. "Kennedy Winston obviously scored a lot of points, but everybody made key plays at key times. Evan Brock made some key foul shots. Emmett Thomas made some key buckets and got some huge rebounds for us in traffic. All the guys did. Chuck Davis had a couple of nice plays. What we've got is a group of guys that are fighting as hard as they can fight.
"They came out of here with a great win."
It wasn't that State had a bad game overall. In fact the talented Bulldogs made several runs at Alabama as the second half wore on, but the Tide always managed an answer.
"It was huge to keep scoring," Gottfried acknowledged. "A number of guys stepped up. Emmett made a big shot. Earnest made a big shot. Obviously Kennedy was there for us offensively. On the road especially you've got to keep scoring. You can't keep the home team from scoring with seven minutes out. They're going to make some baskets. You've got to keep scoring on your end."
At the end of the game especially MSU shooters got hot, pouring in several three-point shots. But Bama never relinquished the lead.
"That was a big factor," Winston said. "Usually it's been the other way around. But tonight we kept the lead, which put the pressure on them to try and come back."
Winston led all scorers with 31 points, his career high. And reserve guard Emmett Thomas also contributed 16 points to help throttle the Bulldogs. When State kicked its defense into high gear and started scoring, it would have been all too easy for this Tide team to give up. But it didn't.
"We stayed together," Winston said. "When the crowd got loud we didn't get rattled. There have been some games where we got rattled when the crowd got into it, but we stayed together tonight."
In addition to his 31 points, Winston also pulled down 11 rebounds (another career best). He was 2-for-2 from beyond the 3-point arc and 13-of-15 at the free-throw line. Thomas was a remarkable 4-of-5 on three-pointers and also contributed five rebounds. Chuck Davis had eight points, Earnest Shelton and Antoine Pettway seven, Evan Brock scored four, while Reggie Rambo and Demetrius Smith finished out Bama's scoring with two points each.
Mississippi State's star forward Lawrence Roberts was every bit as good as advertised. He led the Bulldogs with 23 points, though just eight of those came in the second half. Reserve guard Gary Ervin came off the bench late in the game to keep State in it with 11 points.
With most of his big men in foul trouble, Gottfried utilized a 2-3 zone for most of the second half to keep his team in the game.
"Lawrence Roberts is a great player," Gottfried said. "Physically right now I'm not sure that we can really play him man to man, even if we doubled on defense. We're not physically strong enough to keep a guy like that away from the basket. He's so powerful and so good with the ball.
"We played a smaller lineup. We started the second half with Emmett in the game. He played really well. But our zone helped us today."
Alabama shot 23-of-46 on the night for 50 percent. The Tide was 8-of-15 from three-point range for 53 percent and a very good 23-of-28 from the charity stripe (82 percent). MSU was only 42 percent from the field, 6-of-21 from beyond the three-point line. The Bulldogs were 19-of-27 at the free throw line for 70 percent.
The Bulldog stars often overmatched Alabama's inside players. Chuck Davis, Reggie Rambo and Jermareo Davidson were all plagued by fouls. And at one point the slender Evan Brock was Bama's biggest inside player on the court. But remarkably the Tide out-rebounded Mississippi State 34-to-31.