Tide falls just short to Bulldogs

Mississippi State continued its mastery of Alabama in Starkville Wednesday night, but Bama didn't go down without a fight. Although the 20th-ranked Bulldogs broke open a close game in the second half, what appeared to be a rout turned into a dogfight with State finally emerging with a 59-55 win.

The Crimson Tide has not won at Mississippi State since 1998.

The loss dropped Alabama to 15-9 overall. Although many so-called experts are predicting Alabama will make the NCAA Tournament field, the Crimson Tide is flirting with a losing Southeastern Conference record. Now at 5-8 with three games remaining, Bama can do no better than .500 in league play.

Alabama returns to Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa for a 1 p.m. CST Sunday game against Mississippi. The game will be telecast by CBS. Alabama also has a home game March 5 against South Carolina before finishing regular season play at LSU on March 8.

Alabama had the early lead, but a familiar long period of poor shooting - nine minutes without a field goal - cost the Crimson Tide the advantage. Still, good Bama defense - Mississippi State had a six-minute run with no field goals - kept the Tide in the game, trailing by only 24-22 at halftime. Although Erwin Dudley came to life in the second stanza, the rest of the Alabama offense was dormant until about the eight-minute mark and the Tide also lost its defensive effectiveness as State began to stretch its lead. Dudley scored Bama's first 13 points of the second half.

Alabama trailed by only 37-33 when State went on a 14-2 run and took a 16-point lead. The Bulldogs would get it out to a 17-point margin at 54-37. But then it was Alabama's turn for a run, a 14-point run.

Then baskets began to fall for Bama. A handful of Tide three-pointers cut the margin until Alabama pulled to within three points at 54-51 with just under two minutes to play and also had it at 56-53 with 35 seconds to play. However, Alabama had a couple of critical misses in the final minute and the Bulldogs sealed the victory with free throws.

Dudley, who had only two points at halftime, finished with a game-high 17. Dudley also had seven rebounds and won his personal battle with State's Mario Austin, who had 14 points and five rebounds. Kennedy Winston had 11 points and Mo Williams 10 for Bama.

Alabama reverted to its normal poor shooting, 41 per cent for the game. Mississippi State shot only 44 per cent, but hit 58 per cent in the second half. Alabama was good on 33 per cent of its three-point shots, six of 18. Alabama was good on 80 per cent of its free throws, while State gave Bama hope by hitting only seven of 13, a dismal 54 per cent. Alabama had a slight edge in rebounding, 33-30.

Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried was able to see a positive in the loss. "I'm proud of our guys," he said. "Our guys poured their hearts into the game." He also said he had told his team he thinks it will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Alabama defeated Mississippi State, 68-62, in an overtime game in Tuscaloosa earlier this season.

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