By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Defeat didn’t come as suddenly this time, and Mississippi State actually left the floor feeling better about itself.
The Bulldogs refused to fold but ultimately came up short, falling 64-56 to Alabama at Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday night. It was the 11th consecutive loss for MSU (7-18, 2-11 SEC), tied for the second-longest in school history.
This losing streak began on Jan. 16, when Alabama took a 32-point win in Starkville. In that game, the Crimson Tide blew open a close game with a blazing start in the second half.
This time, MSU kept hanging around, cutting a 12-point deficit in the second half down to four on Jalen Steele’s 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 20 seconds to go. But Alabama (18-8, 10-3) converted some late turnovers into points to seal the win.
First-year MSU coach Rick Ray said he had been worried about his team’s mental state during this skid, but he liked what he saw in this game.
“The thing I was most concerned about tonight was having our guys go out and compete and fight, and I thought they did a great job of that,” Ray said.
Steele, a junior, returned from a three-game suspension and led MSU with 15 points. Colin Borchert had 14 points and nine rebounds.
“We’re definitely going to build off this,” Steele said. “The intensity picked up.”
After Steele’s big 3-pointer, the Bulldogs reverted to some old habits and started turning it over. It was 52-45 when freshman Craig Sword committed back-to-back turnovers, leading to a pair of fast-break baskets for Alabama to effectively ice it.
“I was going too fast, and that caused turnovers,” said Sword, who committed five of State’s 23 turnovers.
The Bulldogs were playing without suspended forward Roquez Johnson, leaving them with just two true post players. But MSU won the rebounding battle, 33-31.
As in the first meeting, Wednesday’s game was close most of the first half. Alabama used a 12-5 run to close the half and take a 31-20 lead into the break.
defense picks up
MSU shot 54.5 percent in the second half, and its defense started to really give Alabama trouble. The Crimson Tide committed nine of its 14 turnovers after halftime.
“I thought when our defense was set, we did a really good job against Alabama,” Ray said. “But toward the end there when we turned the basketball over and we’re trying to run them down on fast breaks because of our turnovers, our defense is obviously not very good.”
Rodney Cooper led Alabama with 20 points, while Trevor Releford added 17. The Tide shot 39.2 percent for the game, including 3 of 15 from 3-point range.