BULLDOGS PUMP UP FOR ‘BAMA
By GENE PHELPS
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Marcus Bullard simply had fun.
Dontae’ Jones couldn’t believe it.
Darryl Wilson would have called you a liar if you had told him Mississippi State was going to shoot 63 percent and lead Alabama by 27 points at halftime on the Crimson Tide’s home floor.
But it happened here Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 10,680 stunned Alabama fans at Coleman Coliseum Mississippi State jumped out to a 54-27 halftime lead and held on to dunk the Crimson Tide 73-65 in their SEC Western Division shootout.
“I don’t know if a team can play better than we did in the first half,” Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said. “We played a great first half of basketball. We shot well, defended well and rebounded well.
“… It was a dominating first half by a group of players who were ready to play.”
The victory was especially sweet for State’s Wilson, a Kennedy, Ala., native, who was 0-3 here against the Crimson Tide. He scored a team-high 21 points, hitting 8-of-15 from the field. He scored 17 of those points in the first half.
“We held them to 36 percent shooting on their home floor (in the first half),” Wilson said, shaking his head. “To go on the road and shoot and play like we did today is something.”
Mississippi State assured itself of at least a tie with Arkansas (8-5) for first place in the Western Division, upping its overall record to 18-6 and its SEC ledger to 9-5. The Bulldogs have two regular-season games remaining this week against Vanderbilt, on the road, and Auburn, at home.
Alabama fell to 14-10 overall and to 7-7 in the conference.
The 18 wins, Williams thinks, should be enough to put State back in the NCAA Tournament. But he’s not counting on it. Two years ago, the Bulldogs were left out of the Big Dance with 18 wins.
“I think this team is in,” he said. “They deserve to be in, but I’m not on the selection committee. We have some quality road wins. We don’t want to give them any decision to make selection Sunday. We want them to pencil us in. It’s going to be hard for that committee to keep us out.”
For State, Jones had a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Bullard added 15 points and had five assists, and center Erick Dampier scored 12 points, had 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in his matchup with Alabama’s Roy Rogers.
The Tide’s 6-foot-10 senior center scored 21 points, had eight rebounds and a whopping seven blocked shots. Marco Whitfield added 12 points and Eric Washington, whose last-second 3-pointer beat State 56-55 Jan. 13 in Starkville, scored 10 points.
“I thought we did a better job the second half,” said Alabama coach David Hobbs, whose team outscored State 38-19, “but we were in too big of a hole.”
Alabama’s Rogers scored on a layup to cut State’s lead to 12-9 with 14 minutes, 55 seconds left in the first half.
The Bulldogs answered with a 3-pointer by Jones which started a 24-2 run over the next eight minutes. During that span, State had a 21-0 spurt.
“It was fun,” Bullard said. “Everybody stepped up and hit some big shots.”
“We controlled the tempo,” said Jones, who followed up his own miss for a tip-in at the start of the Bulldog’s run. “If we can keep doing that it’s going to be fun the rest of the season.”