By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Playing down to its competition is becoming a nasty habit for Mississippi State.
For the fourth time this season, the No. 23-ranked Bulldogs were subdued by an opponent that, on paper at least, was inferior. Thanks in large part to its worst shooting game of the season, MSU (15-4, 3-1 SEC) fell to Alabama, 62-57, before a crowd of 12,336 at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
State hit just 2 of 18 – 11.1 percent – from 3-point range and 31.7 percent overall. And yet, it was a one-point game, at 58-57, after a Phil Turner putback with 19 seconds left.
After a pair of Alabama free throws, though, senior guard Barry Stewart stepped out of bounds and gave it back with 7.3 seconds left, and that was the ballgame.
“That’s the way the ball falls sometimes,” said Stewart, who scored a team-high 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting. “But (despite) poor shooting, we’re still in the game. You’ve got to give us credit for that.”
Stewart was not alone in his masonry work. Center Jarvis Varnado was 4 of 14 from the field and scored nine points, while Dee Bost was 3 of 13 and tallied 10.
Ravern Johnson, who entering the game was shooting 47 percent from 3-point range, was 0 of 2 from deep and scored 10 points.
MSU’s first 3-point make came from Phil Turner with 9:12 left in the game, and then Stewart hit one in what was part of a 14-0 run that gave the Bulldogs a 48-46 advantage with 7:35 to go.
“Right there is where you’ve got to finish a team,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said.
Alas, Alabama then went on a 10-1 spurt sparked by 3-pointers from former ICC All-American Anthony Brock and Mikhail Torrance, who led the Crimson Tide (12-7, 2-3) with 20 points and made 4 of 8 from downtown.
MSU closed the gap and had a chance to take the lead when Bost drove toward the basket with under a minute remaining. He lost the ball, and Alabama preserved a 56-55 lead.
Bost said he was fouled.
“Dude smacked my arm, but the ref looked directly at me and he was like, ‘Nah, no foul.’ I said, ‘All right.’ ”
Alabama knocked MSU on its heels from the start and raced to a 12-2 lead, and the gap eventually widened to 24-13. State closed it to 27-26 by halftime, despite being 0 of 8 from 3-point range and 9 of 31 overall.
“How many times did we drive it and come out with empty plays? That’s what I’m talking about, empty plays,” Stansbury said.
The Bulldogs’ first lead came on two Stewart free throws with 17:55 left, making it 30-29.
JaMychal Green scored 18 points for Alabama, which shot 34.9 percent from the floor and 31.6 from 3-point range.
State had just entered the AP rankings this past week, but with another bad loss – the others have come against mid-majors Rider, Richmond and Western Kentucky – it will no doubt fall right back out.
Up next is a road trip to Arkansas on Thursday.