After winning its last three games by a total of just seven points, Alabama faultered down the stretch and Ole Miss rallied from behind in the final five minutes, capitalizing on a bevy of Alabama mistakes. Ole Miss (16-8 overall, 5-5 SEC) moved atop the standings of the Southeastern Conference Western Division, evening its league record and tying Alabama (18-6 overall, 5-5 SEC) for the division lead.
Alabama had the ball down by three points at 71-68 with one minute to play when Ronald Steele missed a short-range jumper that would have closed the gap to one point. The loose ball rebound went out of bounds off Ole Miss and Bama had possession with 35 seconds remaining, but Alonzo Gee's inbounds pass was stolen and then Ole Miss hit two free throws to put the game out of reach.
Alabama's second half lead hovered around five points for the first 14 minutes of the second half before the Crimson Tide collapse.
Alabama had a 64-61 lead with five and a half minutes to play in the game, but then followed up with a sequence of four turnovers in its next four possessions which led to seven straight points for Ole Miss and the Rebels first lead in the second half.
The full-court press employed by Ole Miss Head Coach Andy Kennedy can be partially credited. Ron Steele was forced into a turnover in the backcourt, leading to an Ole Miss basket, and Mykal Riley was trapped just across the half court line before throwing the ball away.
Lethargic play and carelessness on Alabama's part can be credited for the three other turnovers late in the game. After an unimaginative offensive possession during the crucial segment, Steele was forced into a tough shot as the shot clock expired which resulted in an air ball and a turnover due to the shot clock violation, and a lazy pass by Riley was picked off and taken for a score on a subsequent trip.
"In my mind, we just hurt ourselves," Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said. "Late in the game we did some things that really hurt ourselves and that was the difference in the game."
Ronald Steele pulled the Tide to within two points at 68-66 after Mississippi's seven-point run, but Ole Miss answered with a Clarence Sanders 3-pointer for a 71-66 lead.
Brandon Hollinger, who had five points in the game, made two free throws to close the game to 71-68 with under two minutes to play and got a defensive stop leading to Bama's last real chance to salvage the game.
Richard Hendrix led Alabama scoring with 18 points, followed by Riley who had 16. Jermareo Davidson had 13 pointes for Alabama. Gee and Steele had seven each for Alabama. Bam Doyne led Ole Miss with 17, followed by Sanders with 16. Big man Dwayne Curtis had 14 points, and point guard Todd Abernathy had 13 points, six assists and no turnovers.
Alabama led by three points at the half, 38-35. It was the first time in five games the Crimson Tide had led at halftime and the second time in the past month Alabama led at the half (the other was a one point halftime lead vs. Auburn).
With a win Alabama could have pulled two games ahead of its nearest competitors in the SEC Western Division race with six regular season league games to play. Instead, Alabama and Ole Miss are tied with 5-5 SEC records. Mississippi State and Arkansas are tied for third in the division with 4-6 conference records, followed by Auburn at 4-7. LSU is in last place in the West with 3-7 SEC record.
Alabama plays defending national champion Florida on the road next Wednesday at 7 p.m.