Defending paint focus for Bulldogs against Tide

Alabama men's basketball coach Avery Johnson calls defensive signals out to his team, while Mississippi State's Ben Howland stands in the background during the January 29th meeting between the two Southeastern Conference rivals.

Staff Writer

It was two weeks ago now when Mississippi State traveled to Alabama for a midweek Southeastern Conference basketball tilt.

On that night in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide went to the low post time and time and time again with success to defeat the Bulldogs. Tuesday night's in Starkville, MSU is determined not to let history repeat itself.

Mississippi State (16-7, 4-6) hosts Alabama (15-8, 6-4) at 8 p.m. The Bulldogs have one last chance to capture a victory on a current three-game homestand that has already included defeats at the hands of LSU and Kentucky. To claim victory though, it starts with slowing down Alabama’s inside game.

“That’ll be something that’s obviously a big focus for us,” MSU head coach Ben Howland said. “They had a concerted effort (in the first meeting) to get in the paint and attack the basket and score around the goal.”

Alabama beat Mississippi State 83-79 on January 29. The Crimson Tide scored a whopping 54 of their points that night from the paint. In all, 76 of Alabama’s 83 points in the first meeting came from either the paint or the free-throw line. Can the Bulldogs slow the Crimson Tide down inside this time around?

State freshman forward Reggie Perry says that has been a focus in recent days. There is concern, Perry indicated, after MSU reviewed Saturday’s loss to Kentucky and saw some of the same disturbing trends that led to Alabama’s success two weeks ago.

“We went over film of our last game and we noticed some of the same things we saw the first time we played Alabama,” Perry said. “We just want to make sure that we help each other out and guard each possession the right way.”

It’s probably a safe assumption that the Crimson Tide will likely try to duplicate the formula that was so successful against MSU in Tuscaloosa. If that’s the case, Crimson Tide senior forward Donta Hall will probably be counted on heavily by Alabama.

Hall is averaging nearly a double-double this season with 11 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs saw firsthand how dangerous Hall can be in the initial matchup when Hall scored a game-high 19 points and was effective in attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line.

“He’s a really good player and he’s been playing at a very high level,” Howland said of Hall. “He has a number of double-doubles – one of the most in our conference.

“He’s a really good player. He’s gotten better every year. He has really improved.”

Slowing down Hall and his teammates on the low block will be vital if MSU is to get back on the winning track. It’s a victory the Bulldogs desperately want to claim.

A loss would drop MSU to three games under .500 in Southeastern Conference play with just seven contests left in the regular season. Still awaiting on that schedule are incredibly tough road tilts at top-ranked Tennessee and at Auburn.

The Bulldogs understand they’re starting to run out of any margin for error as they seek to claim their first NCAA Tournament berth in a decade. To stay on a path to the big dance, it starts with making sure the Crimson Tide can’t own the paint inside Humphrey Coliseum Tuesday night.

“We’ve got to bring our best effort,” Howland said.