The Alabama Crimson Tide came into Starkville wounded, missing top point guard Ricky Tarrant and backup Retin Obasohan to injury along with Rodney Cooper and Michael Kessens battling through ailments, but managed to pull together and get a critical 55-51 win over Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The win, only the second road win of the season, pushed Alabama's record to 15-9, 5-6 in the SEC. The Bulldogs dropped to 11-13, 4-7 in conference play.
The first half was a battle of ineptitude for both sides, but Shannon Hale scored eight points with Kessens adding seven to give 'Bama a 25-21 lead at intermission. Hale and Kessens were a combined 6-9 at half, and the rest of the team was 4-19, for a 10-28 mark (36%.). The Tide was 3-14 from three point range, and 7-14 from short range. MSU shot 8-22 for 36.5%, and 0-3 from three point range in the first half.
The Bulldogs came out in the second half playing better and eventually took a lead at 34-32. The Tide answered each time MSU scored and last trailed at 37-36 with 8:42 left in the game. Levi Randolph got hot, hitting a pair of threes and a lay up, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the second stanza. The Tide seemingly had the game in hand, holding a 52-44 lead with only a minute to play.
Unfortunately for the Tide, MSU had other thoughts. Craig Swords hit a layup, then MSU forced two straight turnovers as the Tide tried to unsuccessfully inbound the ball from under the basket. When 'Bama was finally able to get the ball inbounds they barely got the ball across half-court in time then made only three of six free-throws to limp to a close victory.
Tarrant missed his fourth straight game with a lower leg injury, and Obasohan missed his second in a row with an infected hand. Kessens played on a bad ankle that he sprained in Baton Rouge on Saturday. Cooper was suffering with flu-like symptoms and gutted out 34 minutes of play.
Hale continued to show signs of breaking out of his season long slump, tossing in a game-high 14 points plus four rebounds and two assists. Randolph was the only other Tider in double figures, filling up the stat sheet with 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and a steal. Cooper scored nine points, and Kessens added six rebounds to his seven points. Jimmie Taylor contributed six points, four rebounds, and three blocked shots. Justin Coleman saw extended time with Tarrant and Obasohan out, contributing two points and four rebounds with two assists and two steals in 30 minutes of game action. The little freshman from Birmingham has struggled from the field since his breakout 22 point game against Arkansas, shooting 1-10 in the LSU game and 0-7 vs Mississippi State.
For the game 'Bama was 17-52 from the floor, including 5-27 from three point range, but was 16-22 from the free throw line. MSU was 17-46 from the field, 2-12 from three point range and 15-23 from the charity stripe. Gavin Ware and Sword both scored 13 to lead the Bulldogs. Ware also led both teams with eight rebounds.
Mississippi State won the battle of the boards 37-33 and out-shot 'Bama 37% to 32%. The Bulldogs turned the ball over 15 times, while the Tide had 11 miscues. It is hard to win a game when getting out-shot and out-rebounded but the Tide found a way to pull this one out.
All told, it certainly wasn't pretty but the Tide managed to survive. The team knows what it is up against at this point, needing to win virtually every game from here on out if it hopes to have any shot at a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Tide now has four days to heal before the Vanderbilt Commodores come to town on Saturday night. Tip is at 7pm CST and the game will be televised on ESNPU.