After a week on the road with two big victories, the Crimson Tide came home to host cellar-dweller Mississippi State on Wednesday night. The Tide moved up to number two in the country in this weeks polls, but did not play like it tonight. Bama was due for an off game, and they had one, but somehow were able to pull out the victory. The Tide improved to 18-2 overall and 8-0 in the league in front of a packed crowd in Coleman Coliseum. MSU fell to 12-8 and 1-7 in the SEC. The narrow win was the teams first SEC game win of less than 12 points. The margin for victory in conference games was 21 points prior to tonight.
Coach Nate Oats used the same starting lineup of Mark Sears, Jaden Bradley, Charles Bediako, Noah Clowney, and Brandon Miller. State scored the first basket of the game before Miller drove for a dunk to tie the game up. That was as close as the Tide would come for the majority of the game. The Bulldogs pushed the lead out to 10-2 as it appeared the home team was sleep walking through the game. Oats substituted early and often, trying to find the effort and execution that he was looking for.
With 11:36 left Dom Welch hit a three pointer, his second make of the season, to cut the lead to 14-9. Every time the Tide would make a little mini-run the Dogs would answer. Nick Pringle came in and gave Bama a spark after not seeing the floor in the Tide’s last game, at Missouri. Sears made two free throws at the 6:14 mark and the lead was down to 24-19 for the visitors. With 12 seconds left MSU had pushed out to a 10 points lead. Welch was brought in after a timeout and a play was set up for him. The graduate transfer knocked down a corner three as the clock ran out and the Tide went into the locker room with some momentum, trailing 36-29.
Bama shot only 10-30 for 30% in the half with 3-16 from deep for 19%, but made 6-7 free throws. The team had 16 rebounds, 16 bench points, four steals, six assists, and seven turnovers at the break. Welch and Miller led the team with six points each. Mississippi State shot 17-30 for 57%, 2-6 for 33% from three point range, and 0-3 at the free throw line. The Dogs had 18 rebounds, nine assists, eight turnovers, 10 bench points, four blocks, and four steals. Tolu Smith led the way with 10 points.
The Tide opened the second half with the same starters, and scored two quick baskets to cut the lead to 36-33 with 18:44 left in the game. Seemingly the Tide was ready to turn the tables and take off for an easy win. Not so fast my friend. The Bulldogs scored the next five points to take a lead of 41-33 with 17:10 remaining. When Miller was fouled on a three point attempt he hit 2-3 from the line to cut the lead to 46-43 with 11:48 left in the game.
The Tide made a hoop to cut the lead to one, and when Rylan Griffen nailed a three pointer Bama had their first lead of the game at 48-46 with 9:10 left. Surely now was the time for the Tide to go on a run and put the game away. Think again. Dashawn Davis was fouled by Griffen on a wild three point attempt and made all three freebies for a 51-48 lead for the Dogs. Jahvon Quinerly made two free throws to make it a one point game and then Miller drained a triple for a 53-51 Bama lead with 7:07 left in the game. Surely this was the turning point where the Tide would run away with the game. Think again.
Clowney made a basket on a great pass from Quinerly, and Quinerly followed with two free throws giving the Tide a 61-55 lead with 4:50 left. Bama widened the lead to eight at 63-57 with 2:32 left. That had to be the time when the Tide put the Dogs away. Nope. The Bulldogs kept chipping away and the Tide made some ill advised three point attempts in the last minute of play. When Quinerly made 1-2 from the line it left the door open for the Dogs. With 49 seconds left and the ball a missed Bama three gave MSU the ball with a chance to tie the game up. Noah Gurley made a huge block of a three point shot and the ball bounced around long enough for the clock to run out, giving Alabama a struggle win of 66-63.
In the second half, the Tide shot 11-27 for 40%, 2-12 for 16% from three, and 13-15 for 87% from the line. Overall Bama shot 21-57 for 37%, 5-28 for 18% from three, but 19-22 for 86% from the free throw line. The Tide finished with 36 rebounds, three blocks, 11 assists, five steals, and 12 turnovers.
Quinerly was the leading scorer with 14 points to go with four assists and four rebounds in 27 minutes of play. Miller added 13 points with 6 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and one block in 37 minutes. Clowney had 13 points, eight rebounds, and made 7-8 free throws. Pringle had seven points in only eight minutes, Welch had six points in 10 minutes, and Griffin scored five. Bediako and Bradley played only 12 minutes each, despite starting both halves.
MSU shot only 9-26 in the second half for 35%, 1-9 from three, and 8-9 from the charity stripe. Overall the Dogs shot 26-56 for 46%, 3-15 for 20% from deep, and 8-12 for 66% from the line. The Bulldogs had 33 rebounds, 12 assists, eight steals, six blocks, and 15 turnovers. Smith had 15 points and seven rebounds while Davis had 14 points with four rebounds.
Clowney was awarded the player of the game while Miller garnered the hard hat award. However, Quinerly was the engine that made the team go tonight. The stretch of the last three games has Quinerly starting to resemble the SEC Tournament MVP that he was two seasons ago. Welch’s two three point makes were a shot in the arm for a team that struggled from behind the arc all night. Miller was 1-4, Clowney 0-6, Sears 0-5 and Quinerly 1-3.
This is a game the Tide would have lost last year. To play as listless as they did and pull out a win speaks volumes of this years unit.
After the game Oats said “honestly we probably should have lost that game,” adding “sometimes you have to figure out how to win a close game, its good to be put in those situations and figure out how to pull it out, this isn't going to be our last close game.”
Oats praised Mississippi State saying, “the SEC is tough, that team has only won one conference game and you saw how tough it was for us to win tonight.”
Next up for Bama is a trip to Norman, Oklahoma to face the struggling Sooners in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The game will be at 1 p.m. CT and will shown on ESPN or ESPN2 or ESPNU.