Facing an almost must-win situation, Alabama suffered one of their worst losses of the season, falling 67-61 to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Tide had been one of the hottest teams in the league with five straight wins and had worked themselves squarely into the NCAA Tournament picture. If they fail to make the dance they will undoubtedly look back to this one.
Five minutes into the game 'Bama had jumped out to an 11-4 lead but went cold from that point forward. Once MSU took the lead at 17-15 with nine minutes left in the first half, the Tide never regained it. A basket by Retin Obasohan at the half-time buzzer cut the Bulldogs' lead to 32-29. Even though Riley Norris had been called for two early fouls, coach Avery Johnson chose to insert him back in the game and he was quickly called for his third foul. The foul trouble pretty much rendered Norris useless for the game, as he finished with zero points and four rebounds, and in fact did not attempt a shot of any type.
In the second half the Bulldogs would stretch the lead to six to eight points on several occasions, only to have the Tide battle back to creep with one point several times. The teams traded technical fouls about three minutes into the half, the first on MSU's Gavin Ware, and 15 seconds later one on Johnson. The Tide went on a 7-0 run at that point to close the gap to 41-40, only to watch the Bulldogs run off six straight of their own. The Tide pulled within one again with 4:27 left in the game but never quite got over the hump.
Poor shooting doomed the Tide, as they finished at 22-52 for 42%, only 6-21 from three point range and a dismal 11-21 from the free throw line. Alabama also won the rebounding battle 36-33 and both teams had eight assists and 11 turnovers. The Bulldogs shot 26-53 (49%), 7-17 from three (41%) and 8-15 from the free throw line.
Per usual, the Tide was led by Obasohan with 22 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Shannon Hale had one of his more productive games, also scoring 22 points on 7-15 shooting and 4-8 from three point range. Hale added five rebounds. Jimmie Taylor did contribute eight points on 4-4 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. Arthur Edwards was only 2-11 (1-7 from three) and scored five points while leading the team with seven rebounds. Michael Kessens, Justin Coleman and Norris contributed next to nothing with Coleman's one point the only offensive production from the trio.
Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 15 points for the Bulldogs and was helped by 13 points from Craig Sword, 12 from Gavin Ware and 10 from I.J. Reddy. Ware and Johnny Zuppardo had four rebounds apiece to lead the team.
There is no way to sugar coat this one, a bad loss to a bad team when a victory was needed is hard to swallow. The team seemed to have been listening and reading all the accolades they have received over the past few weeks, and played flat and uninspired. With a road game to Kentucky up next, a win would have left some wiggle room for the Tide. There are four games remaining: at UK, Auburn and Arkansas at home and Georgia on the road. Winning the home games and losing the road games would give 'Bama an 18-12 overall record and a 9-9 SEC mark. That and at least one win in the SEC tournament may be enough to get the Tide into the NCAA, but anything less would likely send the Tide to the NIT.
The Tide travels to Lexington on Tuesday, February 23 for a 6 pm CT game that will televised on ESPN. Buckle up and hope for the best.