The Bulldogs, despite missing 4 of their last 7 free throws, built the lead back out to 6 before Alabama made a last second field goal to make the final score 59-55.
Alabama's Erwin Dudley led all scorers with 17 points.
MSU's Mario Austin, celebrating his 21st birthday, scored 14 points to lead the Bulldogs. Now leading Auburn by 1 game and Alabama and LSU by 3 games, MSU travels to Fayetteville, Arkansas to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team that they have defeated only one time in games played in Fayetteville. Auburn plays Florida at Auburn.
POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE:
MSU Coach Rick Stansbury:
"Alabama came in here playing as well as they had been all year. They came in here playing with a lot of confidence. I thought their team played well and made some shots.
"I thought it was our ability to defend, particularly in the second half, that won this game for us. In the first half, we didn't shoot the ball very well. We were 2-for-10 from the three-point line. We missed some open jump shots that would have distanced the game. Our kids may have felt some tension as to how huge of a game this was. In the second half, we loosed up defensively. We got the big lead because of our ability to defend. (Ontario) Harper loosed us up and made some shots and got us going.
Did you think you had to weather the storm the last seven and a half minutes?
"We didn't help that situation. We got up by 17 and they made two threes in a row (by Pettway and Shelton) and cut it back to 11. It wasn't the turnovers. I think we had one turnover during the entire stretch. We just missed some easy shots that we had to take. They were totally collapsing on Mario (Austin). They weren't going to let Mario beat them. It was also our inability to made free throws that would have distanced the game. But our kids found ways to make plays that you have to to win."
Dudley had Alabama's first 13 points in the second half. From the 12 minute mark on, he only scored 2 points the rest of the way. Did you do something differently to shut him down the rest of the half?
"No, we tried the same thing all night long. We doubled him everytime he caught it. However, there were some times we forgot to get there and he scored some baskets. They were hard to double off of when they went small. When (Kenny) Walker was in the game, he was much easier to double off of, because he is a non-perimeter shooter. But when they slid Kennedy Winston down to the four spot, now they have four shooters out there and you have to come out of the perimeter to double and it is not as easy to double. We didn't get there a few times (because of that)."
Talk about Ontario Harper stepping up and making some crucial shots.
"Harper, for whatever reason, came to the huddle one time and told me he felt it and not to take him out. That was when he was getting tired. If you noticed, I let him play through that first sub because he was doing a great job defensively on Kennedy Winston. Even though he hadn't made jump shots the first half, I thought that he played very hard defensively. In the second half, he said I feel it. And he felt it. He made shots that he always gets. We needed someone to make shots tonight because (Michal Ignerski) wasn't make them and Timmy Bowers was 2 for 7 from the three-point line and (Derrick Zimmerman) was 1 for 4. We needed those two that he jumped up and made."
Are you at all concerned about the missed free throws and what it could mean down the line?
"No question, we don't want to miss free throws. I don't have an answer for that. We shoot them good at times and at times we don't. There is no question missed free throws will cost you on the road in big basketball games. You have to make free throws."
You changed defenses during the game. Was that due to what Alabama had on the floor?
"When we got up 17 points, we wanted to stretch the clock out a little bit. We wanted to shorten the game a little bit by making them kill the clock a little bit. They didn't kill much clock. They worked it around and made two threes in two possessions. So, we got back out of the zone."
Do you think this team is peaking at the right time?
"I think this team has played really well over the last month. That is 8 out of our last 10 games that we have lost. The only two games that we have lost have been at Georgia where we had a chance to win and all you guys believed we should have won the game. And you are right, we should have won the game. And at Kentucky, where five minutes to go in the game, we were right there with a five-point game.
"I think we have found some pieces in Branden Vincent coming off that bench that maybe six weeks ago we didn't have. Besides being a guy that we feel comfortable working in that zone, he has become a defensive stopper for us. Over at Auburn, he was the guy who shut down Daniels. He took (Ole Miss') Harper during the stretch when Harper didn't score. He is a guy that we feel very comfortable with coming off that bench and being the stopper. The same thing with (Winsome) Frazier. And Frazier is a guy who can make some shots for you. We like our chemistry."
Auburn got beat by LSU tonight which put your team at the top of the West all alone.
"We are in a position where we don't have to worry about anything anybody else does. It's nice that they won, but we can control our own destiny in the West. We have put ourselves in a position where we will take them one at a time.
"We are going to a place Saturday, where to my knowledge, and I have been here 13 years, we have never won in Fayetteville. We are going to try to do something Saturday afternoon that no Mississippi State team has ever done. I don't care what happened here, Arkansas is a different team at home. They won a game tonight at Vanderbilt, so it won't be an easy game for us."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at email@example.com