Junior guard Antoine Pettway, whose layup against Florida last season gave Alabama the 2002 Southeastern Conference regular season championship, made a critical layup in the final second of regulation Wednesday to send the game into overtime. "Once we got into overtime, we felt like we would win," Pettway said after the game.
"Our team showed tremendous passion, courage and toughness," Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried said in the media room afterwards. "To be down 17 points and to keep fighting tells you something about these guys. They've got a lot of character."
With the victory Alabama improved to 12-2 overall and 2-1 in SEC play. Mississippi State, which defeated Bama in last year's SEC Tournament Championship Game, fell to 0-3 in league competition.
Alabama goes to Auburn Saturday to take on the surprising Tigers at 3 p.m. CST, a game that will be regionally telecast by Jefferson Pilot. Alabama does not return home until January 25 when Kentucky visits.
Alabama, which fell behind by 17 points in the first half, trailed by a dozen, 36-24, at halftime. Sophomore point guard Mo Williams had some choice words for his teammates at halftime. "We were just getting outplayed, and I challenged my teammates at halftime," Williams said. "Everyone responded. We came out and played hard and defended hard. We played with a lot of intensity in the second half."
Meeting in the next room, Gottfried and his assistants listened appreciatively to Williams' speech. "We could hear Mo through the wall," Gottfried related. "He was undressing them pretty good. I let him finish, and when I went in there wasn't a lot left to say. You like to see that in your players."
Alabama came out of the locker room and played inspired basketball, going on a 22-10 run over the first ten minutes of the half. Midway through the second half Erwin Dudley hit a short jumper to tie the game at 46-46. Moments later Pettway was good on a pair of free throws and the Tide had a lead it would not surrender until the final moments of regulation. "At halftime we talked about not losing our winning streak at home," Dudley said. "We came out and played hard. Our intensity got to them."
However, the Tide went ice cold from the field in the final six minutes of regulation. Bama scored its 53rd point (and had a 53-46 lead) with 6:56 to play. The Tide did not score again until Pettway's buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime. "I thought we got a little fatigued there toward the end," Gottfried said.
Dudley, who led all scorers with 23 points, hit a short jumper and added a free throw to start the overtime and Alabama never trailed in the extra five-minute period. Alabama opened up a 63-56 lead with just over two minutes to play, but the Bulldogs cut it to two points with just under a minute. A three-point shot by Mo Williams, who scored 11 despite a cold shooting night, gave Bama some breathing room.
"Tonight Erwin played like an athlete who would not be denied," Gottfried said of his star forward. "He had that look in his eye that one way or another we were going to get the job done."
Williams was whistled for two fouls early in the game and did not score in 11 minutes of playing time in the first half. He had two three-point shots during Bama's second half comeback and a three-pointer and another jumper in overtime.
"That's why they've won 28 straight games at home," State head coach Rick Stansbury said afterwards. "That's why they were the No. 1 team in the country. We had some tough turnovers that we can't have on the road and win."
Mississippi State led most of the game despite a sub-par performance by 6-9 forward Mario Austin, who has been injured, and terrible outside shooting. Austin played 39 minutes, but had only eight points and two rebounds. The Bulldogs shot 49 per cent from the field, but made only three of 19 three-point shots -- 15.8 per cent.
The Bulldogs seemed to have pulled out the win when Timmy Bowers was left unguarded and scored a backdoor layup with just nine seconds to play. After a timeout, Williams drove the length of the court. The Bulldogs collapsed on him to prevent either a three-point try or a drive to the goal, but Williams flipped the ball to Pettway in the corner. Pettway drove the baseline and made the layup to tie the game at 55-55.
Mississippi State was led by Derrick Zimmerman. Zimmerman scored 15 points and grabbed a team high seven rebounds. Also contributing for the Bulldogs were Ontario Harper and Timmy Bowers who scored 12 and 10 points respectively.
Stansbury praised his team's effort. "We had a chance to win with nine seconds left," he said. "But we allowed them to dribble the length of the court and basically get a layup. Alabama is a terrific basketball team. We played hard and left everything on the floor."
Although Kenny Walker had some big shots and scored 10 points, he missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation with 19 seconds to play in regulation, leaving the score tied at 53 and setting up the final dramatics by both teams.
Alabama did not have a good shooting game, 44.4 percent from the field and only 65 percent on free throws (13-of-20), but Bama made seven of 13 three-pointers for 53.8 per cent. Mississippi State made one more field goal than Alabama, but on the strength of three-pointers the Tide outscored the Bulldogs by two points from the field.
Mississippi State scored 38 points in the paint, Alabama only 24. Bama had 18 points off 17 State turnovers, the Bulldogs 16 points over 13 Tide errors. Both teams scored eight second chance points. Mississippi State scored six fast break points, Alabama none. State had 32 rebounds, Bama 31.