Alabama Beats Buldogs

Mississippi State improved by 44 points in its rematch with Alabama in Starkville Saturday. Fortunately, that was not near enough as the Crimson Tide took a 68-63 win over the Bulldogs to assure Bama of no less than a tie for the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship and give Alabama the number one West seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament.

While State was 44 points better than the Bulldogs had been in Tuscaloosa on January 18, that game was an incredible 49-point Alabama win, 98-49. Going into the season Mississippi State had been picked as the likely Western Division champion.

Alabama finished regular season play with a 23-6 record and a 12-4 SEC mark.

It was Alabama's second consecutive win over Mississippi State in Starkville.

Alabama will play at 1 p.m. EST (noon CST) Friday in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta against the winner of Thursday's Ole Miss-South Carolina game in the first round of the tournament. Regardless of the outcome of a later Saturday game between LSU and Vanderbilt, Bama has the number one seed. If Vandy upsets the Tigers, Alabama would have sole possession of the SEC Western Division championship. An LSU win and the Tigers would share that title.

(Being the top seed in the West means Alabama can't meet Kentucky, the overall SEC Champion and East number one seed, until the SEC Championship Game.)

Alabama led most of the game in Starkville, but the Bulldogs took a slim lead midway through the second half and the game became back-and-forth. Then with the game tied at 55-55, Bama went on a 9-0 run to wrap up the victory.

Jean Felix came off the bench to score 13 points, including 11 in the second half. Felix also had five rebounds.

Alabama got almost no scoring inside with Chuck Davis held to four points and Jermareo Davidson held to only two points before fouling out.

Kennedy Winston led all scorers with 21 points. Freshman point guard Ron Steele had 13 points, including drilling a late three-pointer and hitting key free throws in the final moments to seal the win. Earnest Shelton had 11 points.

Alabama defense–for most of the day a zone defense–gets the lion's share of credit for the win. The Tide held the Bulldogs to only 30 per cent shooting, including only 18 per cent on three-pointers. Bama hit 48.8 per cent from the field and 45.5 per cent on treys.

"I''m really proud of our guys," said Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried. "We came into a hostile environment, a tough place to play, and got the job done. A lot of guys made key plays. Ron Steele makes a big three-pointer late, but what you have to realize is that a key part of that was Chuck Davis kicking the ball out to him. We found a way to get it done."

Alabama played most of the game in a zone defense, and Gottfried said that was a key to holding down the Bulldogs' star post player, Lawrence Roberts in the second half. Although Roberts, last year's SEC Player of the Year, had 15 points and 11 rebounds, his first half scoring output was only two free throws. Bama had a 26-22 lead at intermission.

Gottfried noted that Mississippi State–the SEC's top rebounding team–had 19 offensive rebounds, but out-rebounded Alabama by only three (42-39). And although Alabama turned the ball over 19 times, he said, "When we didn't turn it over we got good shots."

Well, not all good shots. Jean Felix took a near-impossible three-pointer under pressure, but on a lucky day the ball went off the backboard and into the basket.

Gottfried said, "We wanted to be overall champions, but after our two losses we regrouped. We told the guys it was a two-game season. And we won those two games (against Auburn Wednesday and against State Saturday). To win on the road you have to have guys who are unselfish, and we have that. They care about the team."

Alabama swept four of the Tide's five SEC Western Division opponents–Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Auburn. Bama and LSU split.

Mississippi State finished regular season play with a 21-9 record and 7-9 SEC mark. The Bulldogs did not have star guard Winsome Frazier for the meeting in Tuscaloosa. Saturday Frazier had 10 points.

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