Alabama men’s basketball led Mississippi State by 15 points early in the second half on Wednesday night, but the mood inside Coleman Coliseum shifted as the Crimson Tide let the Bulldogs hang around.
Maintaining a lead when adversity hits has been one of the Crimson Tide’s main weaknesses in the second half this season, as it has lost a second-half lead in three of its six losses.
A few Alabama turnovers and difficult perimeter shots sparked a rally that got the Bulldogs within six points with 13 minutes remaining, but junior forward/guard Herbert Jones propelled Alabama to a 12-1 run with a putback dunk and kickout assist to sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. for a three-pointer.
The Crimson Tide nearly doubled the Bulldogs’ score the rest of the way, securing its first conference victory of the season with the 90-69 win.
“Before I got into the huddle, I could hear [the players] talking: ‘We gotta get stops. Come on, we need to get these next three stops,’” coach Nate Oats said of the timeout prior to the 12-1 run. “When you get a big lead, you need to put your foot on the gas… This time we blew it open a lot more.”
Coming into the game, Mississippi State was one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country, averaging 13.5 a game. Controlling the glass was the top priority for Oats and the Crimson Tide heading into the game after it allowed 52 rebounds against Florida on Saturday.
Alabama was able to neutralize the Bulldogs’ inside presence by out-rebounding them 42-38. Despite allowing 15 offensive rebounds, it limited their second-chance points to 11.
“[Forwards Reggie Perry and Abdul Ado] are two really good players, especially on the boards, so we had to make sure all of our bigs and also our guards [helped] us out down there to get boards,” said junior forward Galin Smith, who scored a season-high 11 points.
Junior guard John Petty Jr. continued his career year of shooting above 50% from 3-point range on the season with 18 points by shooting 4 of 7 from behind the arc. That included a stepback three-pointer over 6-foot-10 Perry in front of the Alabama bench that gave Alabama its 15-point lead early in the second half.
“Petty is capable of making tough shots,” Oats said. “What might be a bad shot for a lot of other guys isn’t for him… It was a big shot that we needed. The bench erupted, the guys got some energy on the floor and the crowd erupted.”
Alabama (8-6) will travel to Lexington to face No. 14 Kentucky on Saturday. Alabama is winless in its past seven games in Rupp Arena, with its last win coming in 2006.