Alabama Has Tough Loss

The NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee will probably look at Alabama's 82-81 overtime defeat at the hands of Mississippi State as a "quality loss," but the Crimson Tide has to look at the Saturday setback in Coleman Coliseum as very disappointing. It was the final regular season game of the year.

Bama led almost the entire way against Mississippi State Saturday–much of the time by a substantial margin–but the Bulldogs made the shots it had to have and Alabama did not make those shots in the final determining seconds of both regulation and overtime. Alabama had a 75-73 lead missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation with seconds to play, enabling the Bulldogs to hit a tying shot with a second to go and send the game to overtime. Alabama also took a quick lead in overtime, but with an 81-80 lead and possession of the ball and 18 seconds to play, the Tide committed a turnover. State's Timmy Bowers, who had hit the final shot of regulation over Kennedy Winston, took Winston to the basket and put in the game winner as time expired.

Tide Coach Mark Gottfried said, "I'm proud of our guys, but we're all disappointed. Now we've got to pick ourselves up and get ready to go to Atlanta (for the Southeastern Conference Tournament). We're going to Atlanta with the hope we can win the tournament. That's what our mindset is going to be."

The win by State avenged an earlier victory by Alabama in Starkville and gave the Bulldogs the regular season SEC championship wit a 14-2 league record and 25-2 overall mark. Mississippi State is ranked fifth in the nation.

Alabama fell to 16-11 overall and 8-8 in SEC games. Bama is still considered by many to be a so-called "bubble team" tying to get into the NCAA Tournament. Had the Tide defeated State Saturday, Alabama would almost certainly have been considered a sure thing for the national tournament. Now there is a bit of anxiety in the Tide came, that Bama may need at least one win in the SEC Tournament so as to not finish with consecutive losses before selections are made next Sunday, March 14.

As the third seed from the SEC Western Division, Alabama will face the number six team–either Tennessee or Georgia depending on the outcome of Vanderbilt's game at Georgia Saturday night–in the opening round. That game in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta will begin at 9:45 p.m. EST (8:45 p.m. central) and will be regionally telecast by Jefferson Pilot.

There is no doubt where Mississippi State dominated the game. The Bulldogs got 21 rebounds from Lawrence Roberts as State had 29 offensive rebounds and out-rebounded Alabama 56-36. As a result, the Bulldogs scored 30 second- (and sometimes third-) chance points to only 20 for Bama. Roberts is likely to be the SEC Player of the Year. He also had 18 points against Bama. The Houston native was at Baylor last year, but, fortuitously for State, elected to transfer to Starkville.

Roberts also kept Bama's front line in foul trouble. Chuck Davis had only five rebounds in 26 minutes of play before fouling out. Jermareo Davidson had only four rebounds in 23 minutes of play. Amazingly, Roberts was able to dominate the inside and was charged with only one personal foul in 43 minutes of play.

Alabama's only bright spots were the backcourt men. Wing guard Earnest Shelton had a game-high 25 points and a team-high nine rebounds while point guard Antoine Pettway was second in both categories with 21 points and eight rebounds.

Kennedy Winston, who had been on an offensive tear in Alabama's recent winning streak, was cooled off by the State defense. Winston scored 15 points, but he was only 5-of-17 from the field and only 1-of-5 on three-point shots. Davis was also in double figures for Bama with 11 points.

Bowers led Mississippi State with 20 points.

Mississippi State outscored Alabama 44-28 in the second half, erasing the 16-point lead (47-31) the Tide had built in front of a sellout crowd of 15,316. State fought back with a 9-0 run to tie the game at 67-67 with 3:10 to play, but the Tide re-took the lead and held it until the final seconds. The most controversial moment in the game came with Earnest Shelton at the line to shoot a one-plus-one free throw. A State player moved to the line after Shelton had the ball–which is a technical foul–but the officials elected not to call the violation. An official explained to the television broadcasting crew that the officials did not want to decide the game with a technical foul. The disturbance seemed to affect Shelton, who shot quickly and missed, allowing the Bulldogs to take (and make) the shot that sent the game to overtime.

Gottfried said, "We didn't seem to get into an offensive flow in the second half and we also didn't make our shots." After shooting 48.5 per cent in the first half (while holding State to 29.4 per cent), Alabama cooled off to 37.9 per cent in the second half and the Bulldogs improved to 43.8 per cent. For the game, Alabama made one more field goal than the Bulldogs, but State scored one more point from the field because of superior three-point shooting. Alabama, ordinarily a very strong three-point shooting team, made only 8-of-22 (36.4 per cent), while Mississippi State was good on 11-of-27 (40.7 per cent). Bama hit 28 of 65 field goals (43.1 per cent) to State's 27-74 for 36.5 per cent. State was good on 17-of-25 free throws, 68 per cent, Alabama 17-of-20, 85 per cent.

Alabama had only 11 turnovers and State scored only 10 points off those miscues, but one Tide turnover and two Mississippi State points came at the end of overtime and gave the Bulldogs the win. State had 15 turnovers and Alabama scored 14 points off those errors.

In overtime, Alabama took a quick lead on two free throws by Winston and a layup by Pettway. But the Bulldogs took the lead with two field goals, one a three-pointer. Two more free throws by Winston put Bama up at 81-80, but the Tide couldn't get the winning play in the final seconds.

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