Although Coach Mark Gottfried is not ready to talk about it, many believe that win may be enough to get Alabama into the NCAA Tournament. The surprising Crimson Tide, in a rebuilding year, is now 15-10 overall and 7-7 in the Southeastern Conference. Bama has a schedule ranked as most difficult in the nation and a power rating in the nation's top 20. Alabama is assured of no worse than a third place finish in the SEC Western Division. NCAA Tournament selections will be announced March 14.
Bama has two games remaining before the SEC Tournament. The Tide will be at Arkansas at 7 p.m. CST Wednesday for a game regionally televised by Jefferson Pilot, then return home for the regular season finale against Mississippi State at 2 p.m. next Saturday for another J-P telecast. Alabama defeated Arkansas, 81-65, in Tuscaloosa, and upset Mississippi State, 77-73, in Starkville in meetings earlier in the season.
Shelton, a junior guard who missed all but a few minutes of six games with a knee injury earlier in the season, hit 6-of-12 field goals, including 4-of-8 three-point shots, and 9-of-9 free throws to account for 25 points to lead the Tide. While Mississippi's senior duo of Justin Reed and Aaron Harper did their usual damage–Reed had 29 points and Harper 19–no other Rebel scored more than six points. Reed also had 11 rebounds and fouled out two Bama players (Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson).
Alabama got another good offensive game from Kennedy Winston. The sophomore forward has been on an offensive tear recently and continued to score, getting 22 points. Winston also had a team-high seven rebounds as Alabama won the battle of the boards, 39-36.
Bama also got double figures scoring from Antoine Pettway, who had 14, and Emmett Thomas, who had 11. Thomas was injured late in the game and Gottfried said it would be a day or so before the extent of his knee injury was known.
Gottfried said it appeared to him that Bama, coming off two emotional road victories (over then-fourth ranked Mississippi State and at Auburn to sweep the series against the in-state rivals), "looked a little dead-legged. We didn't seem to have much zip. But part of that is Mississippi. They play a very physical defensive game."
Both teams could have been described as physical if the criteria includes fouls. Mississippi committed 24 foul and Alabama made 22-of-29 free throws (75.9 per cent), while the Tide committed 23 fouls and the Rebels were good on 20-of-27 free shots (74.1 per cent).
Perhaps the most amazing statistic in the game was Alabama committing only seven turnovers. As a result the Rebels scored only six points off Bama miscues. Mississippi had only 11 turnovers, but the Tide made them pay with 23 points off turnovers.
Mississippi was tough inside. The rebels out-scored Alabama in the paint, 26-24, and had 13 second chance points to 10 by Alabama.
Alabama had 10 more field goal opportunities than the Rebels. Alabama was good on 25-of-62 (40.3 per cent) while Mississippi made 22-of-52 (42.3 per cent). Alabama took 29 three-point shots, making 12 (41.4 per cent), while the Rebels hit 5-of-18 treys (27.8 per cent).
"We did what we had to do to win," Gottfried said. "(Mississippi) changed their defenses a lot, and we had to keep making adjustments."
Alabama took the lead for good in the first couple of minutes at 5-3, although there were a few ties early in the game, the last at 9-9. Bama led by as many as 13 points in the first half before Mississippi began to cut into the lead late. Although it was 45-38 at halftime, it would be 47-38 before the second half really got started. Mississippi Coach Rod Barnes was assessed a technical foul for arguing with the officials just as the first half ended and Shelton made two free throws before play started in the second period.
The Rebels cut the Alabama advantage to only six points at 60-54 with 14 minutes to play, but over the three minutes the Tide went on a 10-0 run to take control of the game for good at 70-54. The Rebels never got closer than 12 points after that Bama spurt.