The margin of defeat was Mississippi State's worst since a 61-point loss at Arkansas in 1993, and the Bulldogs had to dribble away the final 22 seconds to avoid giving up 100 points for the first time since that same setback. It was the largest margin by either team in the 90-year history of the series.
And, there wasn't much of anything the Bulldogs could have done to prevent it. "I don't know if anyone would have beaten Alabama tonight the way they shot the basketball," MSU Coach Rick Stansbury said.
State certainly wasn't able to avoid getting caught in the crossfire of Alabama marksmen Earnest Shelton and Kennedy Winston, who combined for nine treys. The pair made hitting longballs look, as MSU point guard Gary Ervin put it, like "a video game. Everything they threw up was going in." Or close enough as Alabama shot 48% from the arc and 57% overall in each half.
"We just didn't come out on defense," Ervin said. "They set the tone, came out and made some shots."
Unlike the last meeting in Coleman Coliseum, when Mississippi State stormed back from a 19-point deficit to steal an overtime win that sealed a league title, the home team had effectively locked up this one by intermission. The Tide used a 11-0 surge to break open a one-point contest, then riddled the Dog defense with that remarkable outside shooting for a 49-18 halftime advantage.
The top Tide triggerman was senior guard Shelton, who added five treys—all in the first half--to his league-leading total and finished with a career-high 34 points. It was his red-hot hand that turned a merely commanding lead into a blowout, as he torched State for four of the five treys between 6:35 and 4:06. At halftime Shelton, who came in averaging 16.5 points, had outscored the whole Bulldog team 23 to 18.
"When they were leaving my hands I felt they were going in," Shelton said. "It was one of those nights you felt everything was going in." Swingman Winston added 24 points with four treys, and forward Chuck Davis provided some inside-scoring balance with his 14 points.
By complete contrast, the Bulldogs endured a most miserable offensive evening. State managed only three field goals in the first half, none from the three-point arc, and for the night shot just 36.2%. And the Dogs were 0-of-11 on trey-tries. Forward Lawrence Roberts battled to finish with 19 points and Ervin managed to get into double-digits at ten points.
It wasn't nearly enough; the rest of the squad made just seven field goals in 26 shots. It was hard to say what was more disappointing, the failures on offense or lack of defense. But, "When you're not very good at either end that's what happens," Stansbury said. "When a team is shooting that way you have to slow them down on offense, and we didn't do a good job of that."
Meanwhile Alabama did little wrong, which might have been expected. "We had a week off to prepare for these guys," said Davis. "It was just our night, and it wasn't their's at all."
State did have an obvious early gameplan, as four of the first six set plays ran through the post. All resulted in misses or turnovers, and the Dogs were only able to keep pace initially thanks to Roberts free throws. He hit a pair at 14:44 to pull State within 9-8.
And that was the high point of the night for MSU, which never led and only twice was tied. The first Tide run began innocently enough with a three-point play by Davis, against backup MSU center Walter Sharpe. Then a Bulldog turnover became a layup for guard Ron Steele.
Shelton got loose on the baseline for a basket, then Winston dunked on a fastbreak that had Stansbury calling time with his team suddenly down by ten points. But it was the Tide that made better use of the break, getting a dunk after a missed trey to cap the 11-0 surge. The Bulldogs managed to create some fouls and make a few free shots, but they did not know the game had just gotten away for good.
Because State was in the middle of a 15-minute span that produced no baskets of any sort as absolutely nothing would drop. "We didn't make a jump shot," Stansbury said. "And again, we weren't able to get any stops defensively to get into transition, which we're pretty good at."
Shelton was better than pretty good as he abruptly caught fire, bombing from both wings and at times from 25 feet out. He rang up 13 consecutive points as Alabama's margin exploded to 20, 25, and finally 31 points at the horn. "It kind of snowballed," Stansbury said.
Asked if he'd ever been involved in a scoring drought that long and complete, Roberts could only say "No." He didn't expound, or need to.
The second half had to be played out and Shelton and Winston used the period to pad their numbers while State was unable to do anything to slow the assault. "They basically beat us, just those two," Ervin said. "It was two-on-five." The final margin was the largest of the game, and if the Tide hadn't cleared the bench Alabama would easily have broke the century mark. They scored their eighth-straight home win in the process, while the Bulldogs lost consecutive SEC road games (counting last Wednesday at Tennessee) for the first time since 2003.
"It wasn't any single thing today," said forward Shane Power, who was 0-of-6 shooting. "We all played bad and they played one of their best games. And I don't think anyone on our team wants to admit this, but we're not as good as them. Bottom line."
Stansbury was already telling his troops to get over the loss, no matter what the margin, and look ahead to Saturday's home game with South Carolina. That's the plan, Ervin said.
"We've just got to bounce back from it, put it behind us. Just go home and get ready for the next game."