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Alabama Basketball handles Mississippi State: 71-62

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Was it opposite day?

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

31/36. 86%.

That was Alabama’s stats on free throws on the night.

You didn’t read that wrong. This isn’t the twilight zone. It really happened. This is real life.

After being near to last in the entire NCAA in free throw percentage, Alabama suddenly turned in one of the best nights in free throw shooting I’ve ever seen. The Bulldogs sent the Tide to the free throw line repeatedly throughout the game, and Alabama scored a ridiculous 31 points. That’s almost half of their final score.

You wanna win a game? Make 31 free throws. That’ll do it.

Mississippi State jumped out to an early 13-8 lead as the Tide struggled with turnovers and missed shots. Riley Norris sparked the team with an excellent NBA 3-point shot, and then both squads took turns trading blows with numerous lead changes throughout the teens and twenties. Finally, Alabama went on a 10-2 run the end the half with a lead of 34-29.

Riley Norris opened up the second half with another resounding three pointer. One Bola Olaniyan lay-up and two Dazon Ingram free throws later, Alabama was up by a comfortable 12 points and Mississippi State hadn’t scored in nearly 6 minutes of game time.

Credit to the Bulldogs’ resiliency though, as they slowly fought and clawed their way back into the game, taking the lead off a Quinndary Witherspoon three-pointer with 6 minutes left for a score of 57-58.

That’s when the Tide defense said “No more.” Braxton Key hit an answering three point shot and Alabama scored 13 straight points before Mississippi State finally scored again with 45 seconds left in the match.

Braxton Key led the team again with 19 points, 10 of which came from free throws. He nearly had a double-double, grabbing 9 rebounds and adding in a steal, block, and assist. It wasn’t his most accurate shooting day, but Key was heavily involved in both the offense and defense, and created some great opportunities for both himself and his teammates.

Dazon Ingram was right behind him with 15 points, 12 of which came from free throws (and he was 100% on his free throw shooting!). Ingram also had a rebound, 6 assists, and a steal. He was the major player in what amounted to some pretty impressive interior passing with the rest of the team.

Riley Norris had 13 of his own points, hitting 3-5 three point shots. He was really the only consistent outside shooter Alabama had tonight, riding one of his hot streaks to the tune of 34 minutes of playing time.

Bola Olaniyon and Donta Hall rounded out the starters, and the two big men combined for 12 points, 17 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. Olaniyon in particular had a great game. He was seemingly all over the court and in the mix for every rebound and loose ball all night.

Jimmie Taylor had 5 rebounds, 5 points, 3 steals, and 3 blocks as the key bench rotation. He showed some pretty significant effort tonight and even threw some impressive and quick passes with the others in the paint. Corban Collins and Avery Johnson, Jr. were the only other two bench players to get any playing time, and they combined for 7 points, a rebound, and a steal. Both seemed to press a little too hard and took some rather ill-advised shots.

The two biggest positives from the Tide’s night:

1) Free throws. I don’t know how a team magically gets better at free throws, but whatever Coach AJ put in their gatorade, he needs to stock up on it. That performance nearly brought tears to my eyes it was so beautiful.

2) The effort. The players absolutely gave it their all on every loose ball, every rebound. Bola Olaniyon was everywhere. Jimmie Taylor blocked a shot and made a diving save to keep the ball inbounds afterwards. Donta Hall blocked two shots in a row. Riley Norris did his usual Riley Norris thing and ended up on the ground a few times scrambling for a ball. It was a team mentality to win every contested ball. Even though the rebound numbers for both teams were similar, Alabama’s defense racked up 11 steals to only 5 from the Bulldogs.

Suddenly, Alabama is 6-2 in the SEC and looking like they may be right in the thick of the top of the SEC. There is a ways to go yet, but the team seems to be gelling right now, and that could be scary for the rest of the league.

Roll Tide!