'Bama handles No. 23 Mississippi State
Alabama disarmed Mississippi State's biggest weapon: the 3-pointer.
The Crimson Tide held the No. 23 Bulldogs to their worst shooting performance of the season and put the clamps on the perimeter shooters. Then Anthony Brock and JaMychal Green each made two free throws in the final 16 seconds to finish off a 62-57 upset on Saturday.
"The emphasis was really to try to take away the 3-point line," Tide coach Anthony Grant said.
Alabama (12-7, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) certainly did that. The Bulldogs (15-4, 3-1) came in ranked third in the nation in 3s made, but missed their first 11 and hit a season-low two in 18 attempts.
The cold-shooting Bulldogs were aiming for two followed by a quick foul down three late.
Dee Bost drove to the basket to attempt a layup but couldn't get it off and tried to pass outside to Barry Stewart on the left wing.
"He just tried to make a play that wasn't there," Tide guard Mikhail Torrance said.
Plan B didn't work, either. Instead of a potential tying 3, the play resulted in a turnover when Stewart couldn't handle the pass.
"I was trying to get to my spot and I slipped and the ball went out of bounds," he said.
Green grabbed the inbound pass and hit two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to preserve the win for the Tide, which had dropped three straight games. Mississippi State had cut it to 58-57 on Phil Turner's layup with 17 seconds left.
Alabama is now 2-3 against Top 25 teams.
The Bulldogs were the last remaining SEC West team without a league loss. Their previous low in 3s was four against Western Kentucky before Mississippi State started the three-game streak.
The Bulldogs had been living on the edge during that stretch when the victory margin totaled 10 points. This time they shot a season-low 32 percent.
Stewart chose to look at the basket as half-full instead of mostly empty.
"We had poor shooting but we were still in the game," he said. "You've got to give us credit for that."
Torrance led Alabama with 20 points and five assists to rebound from a season-low three points against Tennessee. He made 4 of 8 3-pointers and scored eight points in the first two minutes.
Green had 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots for Alabama.
Alabama didn't shoot much better than the Bulldogs, hitting a season-low 35 percent from the field. But the Tide seemed to grab most of the loose balls and long rebounds, and Tony Mitchell and Senario Hillman combined for 21 boards while both posting career highs. The result was a 49-45 edge over the SEC's top rebounding team.
"This is the way I think our team has to play to have a chance to win," Grant said. "From a style standpoint, this is how we want the game played."
Stewart led Mississippi State with 13 points. Bost had 10 points and eight boards while Ravern Johnson also scored 10. Jarvis Varnado moved past Colgate's Adonyal Foyle into second place on the NCAA's career blocked shots list, and is 41 shy of the record of 535 held by Louisiana-Monroe's Wojciech Mydra.
Varnado had nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks before fouling out.
Mississippi State wiped out a 12-point deficit midway through the second half, scoring 14 straight to take a 48-46 lead on Stewart's 3-pointer. He and Turner both made 3s during that stretch, but a team that came in making nearly 10 a game was otherwise cold.
"They played very well defensively," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said, "and we didn't play well offensively."
Alabama pushed its advantage back to seven on Torrance's 3-pointer to cap a 10-1 surge. The Bulldogs came back one more time and Turner followed a missed 3 to give them one more chance.
Brock and Green put it away at the line, though.
Both teams endured dismal shooting stretches, especially in the first half.
The Bulldogs opened the game 2-of-16 shooting, helping Alabama build an 11-point lead. Then the Tide scored just three points and made just one of their last 13 shots over the final 7:40. Bost scored on a pullup jumper with 2 seconds left to cut Alabama's halftime lead to 27-26.
The Tide had jumped ahead 12-2.
"From an energy and intensity standpoint, we were outstanding," Grant said. "From the very start of the game we were able to dictate the way the game was played. We were able to sustain that throughout the second half."