The Alabama basketball team went on the road to Starkville on Saturday trying to break a two game losing streak. Instead, the only thing that was broken was their hearts in a 78-76 loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Tide fell to 11-6 overall and 2-3 in the league while the Dogs improved to 12-4 and 3-1 in the SEC. The same culprits that have haunted the team continued Saturday, poor defense, turnovers, an inability to hit three point shots, and being unable to control the other teams offensive rebounding.
The Tide has taken "live by the three, die by the three" to whole new level. In their last eight games the team is 3-5 and has shot 33% from the three point line, making 68 of 202 attempts. For the season Bama is shooting 159-500 from deep for 32% and has made 336 of 589 two point attempts for 57%. Overall the combined shooting percentage is 45%, 495-1089. When Bama beat Houston and Gonzaga back to back they were 20-52 in the two games for 38%.
Coach Nate Oats changed the line up to begin the game, inserting Noah Gurley for Juwan Gary, as the Bulldogs have enormous size. Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, Charles Bediako, and Keon Ellis rounded out the quintet. Shackelford came out aggressive and scored seven of the teams first nine points. The game bounced back and forth through the whole half. The Tide got into foul trouble early with Gurley and Gary both collecting three quick fouls and Quinerly drawing two.
Darius Miles was called on and really gave the team a jolt, as he and Shackelford carried the team offensively. With all the foul trouble James Rojas, coming off of ACL surgery, made his first appearance of the season, and made a much needed impact. The senior from New York got active on the boards and showed the toughness that the Tide has been lacking all year. At the break Bama held a lead of 41-37.
In the first half the team shot 12-30 for 40% including 3-15 for 20% from deep, but made 14-15 from the free throw line, and actually was winning the rebounding battle by a 17-15 margin. MSU was 12-26 for 42% at the break including 0-5 from three, and were 13-17 from the charity stripe as the officials made sure they were seen by blowing their whistle at the drop of a hat.
The same starters came out for the second half and Gurley had foul number four within 30 seconds. The teams traded leads- there were 19 lead changes and 15 ties in the game- through out the half. Rojas continued to get minutes and even hit a three to give the Tide a four point lead with 17 + minutes left. Oats brought Gurley back in with 7:17 left and he fouled out less than 30 seconds later. On the possession that Gurley fouled out, the Dogs got five offensive rebounds before finally putting the ball in the basket.
With 1:24 left, the Dogs had built a 75-67 lead, mostly on the back of made free throws. The Tide then kicked it into overdrive. Miles hit a three from the corner followed by an Ellis make from long range, and suddenly the game was 75-73. Bama played great defense until there were three seconds left on the shot clock. Rojas was called on a bump that sent the Bulldogs back to the line. After two makes the margin was 77-73. Ellis fired up a long three from the corner-just missing the chance for a four point play as he was fouled, but made all three free throws to make it 77-76 with 3.7 seconds left. The Tide quickly fouled on the inbounds. MSU then missed the second free throw, setting up the Tide with a chance. The ball was inbounded to Davison who drove the court, and possibly had a lane to the hoop for the tie, and passed out to Ellis for a three point chance to win the game. The ball drew rim but did not fall and the game ended up 78-76 for the Bulldogs.
In the second half the Tide hit 10-26 for 38% with 5-14 from deep for 35%, and made 10-13 free throws. For the game the team was 22-56 for 39%, 8-29 from three for 27%, and 24-28 for 86% from the free throw line. Bama finished with 32 rebounds, 12 assists, seven steals, three blocks, and 15 turnovers. State was 12-32 for 37% in the second with only 2-10 from eep and made 15-21 free throws. Overall the Dogs were 24-59 for 49%, 2-16 for 12% from three and 28-38 for 74% from the stripe. MSU finished with 43 rebounds, 18 on the offensive end, nine assists, eight steals, two blocks, and 13 turnovers.
Individually, Shackelford finished with 17 points on 6-16 shooting- 1-9 from three- and added five rebounds and two steals. Ellis had 14 points on 3-10 shooting, 3-6 from deep, and 5-5 from the line, and led the team with seven rebounds. Miles had his second straight impressive game after his one game suspension against Tennessee with 14 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of play. Bediako had his second straight good game with 11 points and six rebounds also in 20 minutes of action. After fouling in out in only six minutes of play against Auburn, Gary could only stay on the floor for eight minutes in the game with all his foul trouble. Ellis led in plus/minus with +4, followed by Miles at +3 and Bediako at +2.
After the game lamented the lack of defense, toughness, and rebounding, noting that “they got nine offensive boards in the last seven minutes of the game” and continued that we “need to show toughness for 40 minutes” and that “we need to find five guys that are tough enough to play defense and rebound for the full game.’ When asked about the shooting woes Oats stated that “I think guys are second guessing themselves and passing up good shots at times” and that the team “isn't beating switches.” The coach continued that he knows Shack is a better shooter than 1-9 from three, but that he is playing hard, and said that “Ellis was 3-6 including the one at the buzzer and we need to get him more shots” (something I've been saying all year). Oats was questioned about the defense and rebounding and said “ those are both a mindset and we got bullied in both regards tonight” then mentioned that with Ellis at the three he is small for that spot.
With five of the 18 league games played the Tide already has more conference losses than they did last year. They are clearly missing Herbert Jones, John Petty, Alex Reese, and Josh Primo. The leadership, toughness, and all around play of Jones just can't be replicated, Petty was a sharpshooter from three and an underrated defender with his length, Reese was a big that could step back and hit the three which is a big need, and Primo was just scratching the surface of what he will become, but being a lottery pick at 19 years old was obviously the right move for him. So Oats has to figure out how to get wins with what he does have, and if they don't start hitting three pointers at a higher rate those will be hard to come by.
Next up is LSU on Wednesday at home. The game is at 6 p.m. and will be shown on ESPN2. The Tigers are the number one defensive team in the league and are 15-2 on the season.