What We Learned: Mississippi State scores 67-63 win over Alabama

In Features by Philip Williams

Alabama and Mississippi State battled for 40 minutes on Tuesday in one of the roughest SEC games of the year.

Each team took some hard fouls as they attacked the rim, looking to earn a big win that would help keep pace in a competitive SEC.

Both teams knew how important a win could be, but the Bulldogs managed to score just enough at the right times to eek out a victory.

For Mississippi State (18-6, 6-5), the team’s fourth straight win finally puts Ben Howland’s squad in the bubble discussion.

For Alabama (15-9, 6-5), the loss did not assuage any of the doubt about this team’s tournament chances. While the Crimson Tide are still on the right side of the bubble, the rest of the schedule is daunting.

Here’s what we learned from Avery Johnson’s team in this game.

Alabama can still play defense

Alabama came into the game with the No. 1 defense in the SEC and only solidified that mark with a good defensive effort against Mississippi State.

Alabama held the Bulldogs to just 11 percent from deep and 46 percent shooting for the game.

Even the shots that Mississippi State made were extremely tough (I’m looking at you Nick Weatherspoon) and over the outstretched arms of Crimson Tide defenders.

Overall, Alabama had just a few lapses on defense that led to easy buckets.

The most concerning stat about the defense though was their inability to turn the Bulldogs over. Mississippi State only committed nine turnovers in the game, leaving Alabama’s jet-powered fast-break offense sitting on the tarmac.

When the Tide can’t get out and run, it’s hard for them to score.

Can’t shoot the three

John Petty’s road shooting woes are well-documented, and those woes continued in this game by going 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.

However, Alabama was awful from the 3-point line as a team in this game, making only 3 of their 22 attempts. Collin Sexton was 0 of 7 from distance as well.

There won’t be a game for the rest of the year that Alabama will be able to win without making more than three shots from long distance.

When teams sell-out to keeping Alabama in a half-court game, the Tide have been bogged down and unable to consistently score.

That might explain that ridiculously crazy stat going around that shows that Alabama is 8-0 when it turns the ball over more than 16 times. That’s not the way that basketball is supposed to work, but maybe the Tide are just better when the game is a bit more chaotic.

When the game gets a little wild and Sexton and Dazon Ingram start driving downhill, it creates more open shots from deep.

That might be just what the doctor ordered for what ails the Tide’s 3-point shooters.

Where does the production come from past Sexton?

Let’s read some stat lines from some of the Tide’s best players in this game:

  • Dazon Ingram – 0 points/0 assists/1 rebound/0 steals/0 blocks/4 turnovers in 12 mins
  • Herbert Jones – 1 point/0 assists/1 rebound/0 steals/1 block/3 turnovers in 28 mins
  • John Petty – 5 points/0 assists/4 rebounds/0 steals/0 blocks/1 turnover in 31 mins

That looks like a recipe for a loss.

Someone has to step up and take the pressure off of Sexton at the guard position.

Lately, Avery Johnson Jr. has done a nice job of coming in and adding a scoring punch for the Tide. He can struggle against heavy ball pressure but can also put pressure on the defense with his clutch shooting and array of floaters.

Braxton Key continues to come out of his shell little by little as well. For Alabama to reach its full potential, I 100 percent believe that Key is the, well,…key.

Right now, however, he’s passing up opportunities on tons of possessions.

When the ball reaches Key’s hands, it’s important that he looks to score first and see how the play develops from there. There are too many possessions where he catches the ball wide open at the 3-point line, but he uses a ball fake to get into a congested lane, only to pass the ball out to the perimeter again.

Key, and Alabama as a team, need to play faster on offense and have the confidence to take shots early in the shot clock.

The Crimson Tide have the defense (ranked 14th in the country) to beat anyone, but their abysmal half-court offense is slowing them down.

It’s time for the offense to show a little swagger.

I’m a librarian and junior high boys basketball coach. My obsession with SEC basketball has grown so ludicrous that I won’t take another varsity hoops job because I’d miss almost all of conference play. I cover general SEC for Southeast Hoops.