Tide Sneaks By

It might be an exaggeration to say Ron Steele is back, but the gritty junior guard scored his second winning basket of the season as Alabama fought from behind in the final seconds to defeat Mississippi State, 80-79.

Ron Steele drove the lane with 6.7 seconds to play and put a soft layup off the glass to complete an Alabama comeback against a Mississippi State team that had a five-point lead and the ball with just over a minute and a half to play.

A turnover gave the ball to Bama and Mykal Riley, who had been cold from the field, connected on a three-point shot to cut the Bulldogs' lead to 77-75.

Charles Rhodes, who was held to only 20 minutes of playing time because of early foul problems and had only eight points and five rebounds, made one of two free throws with 38 seconds to play. Twenty seconds later Riley made another three-pointer to tie the game.

Ben Hansbrough had two free throw opportunities with 10 seconds to play. He missed the first and made the second. Steele then drove the ball the length of the court for the game-winning shot.

It is the second time this year Steele has made a game winning shots. Oddly, both winning shots beat Bulldogs—his buzzer-beater downing Georgia, 78-76. For the most part this year, Steele has struggled because of knee and ankle injuries.

Alabama continues to lead the Southeastern Conference Western Division. Bama's third consecutive victory gives the Tide a 5-4 SEC mark and an 18-5 overall record. Mississippi State fell to 12-10 overall and 3-6 in conference play.

Alabama goes to Oxford Saturday to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. Mississippi has been one of the surprisingly strong teams of the year with a 15-8 overall record and 4-5 league mark. The Rebels and Arkansas are tied for second in the SEC West, a game behind Bama.

Steele said, "Coach called the play. Richard (Hendrix) was on the right side. His man was worried about Richard because he had been scoring so much. Richard did a good job of recognizing (the situation) and he moved to the left side of the floor to open it up. I was able to get by my man and make the lay-up."

Hendrix said it wasn't designed for him to be on the left side. "But I saw everyone was on the left and Ron was taking it down the right side and it didn't make any sense for me to go to the right side and get in his way."

Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said, "I'd like to say that was something I drew up, but that was Ron Steele. He saw it and took it."

Hendrix was top man for Alabama with 22 points on 9-12 field goal shooting and also pulled down 10 rebounds and had three blocked shots. Jermareo Davidson also had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Riley had 14 points and Steele had 10. The game-winning basket was Steele's only score of the second half.

Steele did not shoot well, only 3-10 from the field, but had seven assists and no turnovers.

Jamont Gordon of Mississippi State was the game's top scorer with 27 points.

Mississippi State had a 42-41 lead at halftime.

The game was notable for putbacks after missed free throws. Alabama scored seven points on saves after missed foul shots and the Bulldogs had one basket after a missed free throw.

It was unusual in that Alabama, usually dominant at the free throw line, was outscored by the Bulldogs on foul shots. State hit 21-29 and Bama 19-25. Bama was 27-65 from the field (41.5 per cent) and 7-26 on three-point shots (26.9 per cent). State hit 25-65 field goals )38.5 per cent), including 8-30 (26.7 per cent) on three-pointers.

The Bulldogs had a 47-41 rebounding advantage.

Mississippi State had a desperation opportunity for victory. A long shot came up short and was grabbed by the Bulldogs' Charles Rhodes who tried to go back up with it. Hendrix blocked it as time expired.

Hendrix said, " I didn't block it clean, but just got a piece of it."

Gottfried said, "The story is, we've got a team that never quites. They never, ever stop playing, and that's all you can ask for. We hurt ourselves a lot today. We turned the ball over too many times. (Actually, Alabama had only eight turnovers and Mississippi State only six.) Defensive rebounding wasn't very good. It was a lot of things. We are our own worst enemy. We've got to get better.

"But we are going to enjoy the win. We are proud of our guys."

Riley had made only one of eight three-point shots going to the final 1:30 and made the two big treys. "Good shooters always feel the next one is going to go in," Gottfried said.

Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said that was the fourth game this year that his Bulldogs have had the ball with a chance to win or tie at the end. He said he takes responsibility for that, but that his team has got to win those games.

Stansbury said, "Give Alabama credit. They made all the plays down the stretch you have to make."

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