Tide Can't Hold Off State In SEC

Alabama came back from the dead...twice. Alabama and Mississippi State then had to retreat to their dressing rooms late in the game because of a possible tornado. And then finally, Mississippi State put the knife in the Crimson Tide's season. Probably.

Alabama's Mykal Riley couldn't get a final miracle in his senior season. His catch-and-shoot three-point try on an inbounds play with half a second to play went in and then out. Mississippi State defeated Alabama 69-67 in overtime in the Southeasteastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta Thursday night.

Mississippi State's Jamont Gordon had only three points in the first half, finished with 23 points, including three clutch free throws in the final half minute.

Alabama fell behind by 10-0 to start the game, but came back to take as much as a nine-point lead and lead by seven points at halftime. Then Bama managed only 20 points in the first 19:59 of the 20-minute second half. Mykal Riley had a desperation three-point shot from 22 feet go in and out and then back in to tie the game at 59-59 and send the game to overtime.

Then came a most bizarre event. The Georgia Dome was struck by severe weather, perhaps a tornado, and the game was stopped for over an hour. At the time the game was stopped Bama had the ball, but trailed the Bulldogs, 64-61. Alonzo Gee had been fouled just as play was stopped. Over and hour later he had a one-and-one opportunity. He missed.

Mississippi State had beaten Alabama twice in regular season play, 66-56 in Tuscaloosa and 73-66 in Starkville.

Alabama, which closed regular season play with a win over Vanderbilt and then defeated Florida in the first round of the SEC Tournament Thursday night, did not win more two games in a row since playing a woefully weak December schedule.

Thus, Alabama is at 17-16. Bama managed only a 5-11 SEC mark and was the only one of the 12 SEC teams to not have a conference road victory. Although eligible for post-season play, it seems very unlikely Bama will be selected for the NIT.

Things did not start well Thursday night for the Crimson Tide as Mississippi State had lay-up after lay-up and Alabama was throwing up bricks. The Bulldogs got out to a 10-0 lead before Richard Hendrix made a free throw. A few minutes later Brandon Hollinger hit the first of what would be a first half barrage of three-point shots.

Mykal Riley hit a three-pointer to pull Bama to within 17-11. Hollinger got another to get Bama to within a point at 17-16. Gee hit back-to-back three-pointers and Bama trailed by 23-22 with 7:40 to play in the first half. Another Riley bomb pulled the Tide to within two and minutes later Justin Knox made a nice short left-handed two-pointer to tie the game at 27-27 with 5:20 remaining in the first half.

Alabama had foul trouble in the first half (notably Richard Hendrix with two early fouls) and went to a zone defense that shut down the Bulldogs.

Rico Pickett put Bama ahead, 30-27, with 3:15 before intermission. Riley hit another one to make it 33-27. It was easy to do the math at that point. Alabama had outscored the Bulldogs 33-17 after the terrible Tide start.

The only thing that marred the rally was Alabama having its usual problems of trying to take the final shot of the first half. An incredibly poor play resulted in a turnover and Mississippi State making a free throw with a tenth of a second to play. Still, Bama's 36-29 first half lead.

Alabama had made 8-15 three-point shots, Mississippi State 1-10.

In the second half Alabama outside shooting went cold and the Crimson Tide zone became porous. The Bulldogs took the lead onh Ben Hansborough's first field goal of the game, a three-pointer with 2:30 to play to make it 54-52 in favor of State. Hendrix tied it with a tip-in, but the Bulldogs went back up. Gee then tied it with a pair of free throws with 1:28 to play. Another drive through Bama's zone and another slam dunk by the Bulldogs gave State the lead with 1:11 to play.

Alabama ended up with a shot with about 10 seconds to tie the game, but the Hendrix effort missed. In desperation Hendrix fouled Barry Stewart with seven seconds to play. Two free throws would end the game. Stewart made one, then missed and Alabama had a final chance. State knocked the ball out of bounds at midcourt with two seconds to play. After a couple of timeouts, Demetrius Jemison got the throw-in to Riley, left of the key, and Riley spun and shot. the ball went down, came out, rattled on the rim, thenslipped through the net to send the game to overtime.

Riley finished with 18 points, Hendrix with 15 and Gee with 13.

Alabama hit 21 of 56 field goals (37.5 per cent), while Mississippi State made 23 of 58 (39.7 per cent).

"I was very, very proud of our team," Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said. "Both teams played very good defense. I really hurt for our team."

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