Coach Mark Gottfried's Alabama basketball team had been ranked in the nation's top ten a few months ago. In pre-season predictions the Tide was expected to win the Southeastern Conference Western Division and, perhaps, challenge for the national championship.
With a win Sunday, Bama could have had a break-even SEC record and a share of the SEC Western Division chamjpionship. No one would suggest that Alabama played with anything close to the intensity that even that modest goal might induce.
Mississippi State had the proverbial laugher as Bulldogs smiled and joked while running to a XXXXXX
Mississippi State pushed the ball up court on offense, made crisp passes to open men, rebounded hard on both boards, and played an aggressive, shot-blocking defense. Of State's 10 made three-point shots, there was absolutely no pressure from Alabama on six of them. On one missed three-pointer the Tide was guilty of a late, futile foul and three free throws were converted.
In short,the Bulldogs did everything that Alabama did not do.
Gottfried said, "We need to be better, tougher, stronger. We haven't become the mentally tough team I thought we should have become, and that starts with me."
Alabama showed sign of a pulse with a brisk start to the second half. After trailing by a dozen at intermission, Bama came out and out-scored the Bulldogs 12-2 to cut the lead to just two points. Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury called a time out and put a halt to that kind of play. The Bulldogs regained their effort and ran off 11 straight points.
Gottfried said, "We had great energy to start the second half. But after we climbed that mountain we had to climb it again, and we didn't have it."
The margin reached 32 points with over four agonizing minutes left in the embarrassing regular season finale.
Alabama will now be the fifth seed from the six team SEC Western Division at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. Bama will open the tournament at noon Thursday against Kentucky.
"Kentucky in the SEC Tournament is a challenge," Gottfried said. "If we can get ourselves regrouped and do a little better, we can do whatever we want to do. But we've got to get better in a lot of areas."
The Tide fell to 20-10 overall and 7-9 in SEC play. Mississippi State improved to 17-12 and shares the SEC West crown with Ole Miss with 8-8 records.
Although the margin of loss was a bit surprising, little else was different in this game than has been the case in most games for this Alabama team. Mississippi State to the loose balls, had the open shots, and took the fight to Bama in every respect. Alabama had a few extra embarrassments on Sunday, such as failing to advance the ball pase halfcourt in 10 seconds because the Tide dribbler was getting instructions from the bench.
Jermareo Davidson, who hit 5-12 from the field, and Alonzo Gee, who made 4-12, led Bama in scoring with 16 and 13 points each. Brandon Hollinger and Justin Tubbs each hit 3-5 on three-pointers with Hollinger finishing with 11 points and Tubbs 10. Richard Hendrix, who was in early foul trouble and played only 20 total minutes, also had 10 points. Mykal Riley had a poor offensive game with only seven points, but led Bama in rebounding with 10.
Charles Rhodes had 18 points in leading six Bulldogs in double figures scoring.
Mississippi State took advantage of 21 Alabama turnovers as well as a slight edge in rebounding to take 16 more shots than Bama, 71-55. Moreover, the Bulldogs shot them better. State made 35 of 71 for 49 per cent, while Alabama was good on 23 of 55 for 42 per cent. The Bulldogs hit 10 of 30 three-point shots, while Bama was good on seven of 14. Bama hit 14 of 20 free throws, 70 per cent, State 11-17, 65 per cent.
State outscored Bama 44-28 in the paint. The Bulldogs outscored the Tide 23-16 on fast break points and 22-15 on second chance points.