Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Stansbury, left photo, shows his emotion during Saturday's game. (Photo by Michael Wardlaw, SDN)
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. â€“ Mississippi Stateâ€™s NCAA tournament hopes were dealt a blow on Saturday night when Alabama's Trevor Releford buried a 3-point basket coming out of the locker room at the half.
That burst of momentum helped for the Crimson Tide to a 67-50 win over the Bulldogs. â€¨Mississippi State (19-10 overall, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) entered the contest a game behind Alabama (19-9, 8-6), LSU and Tennessee for the No. 4 seed in the SEC tournament, desperately fighting for the much needed first round bye, and perhaps more importantly, the Bulldogs needed a win to save their sinking RPI which had dropped to 62 prior to tip.
â€śI donâ€™t worry about any of that,â€ť said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury. â€śIf you win enough, you get in.â€ť
While the loss is disheartening to many, the Bulldogs did have the opportunity to give themselves a chance to grab the victory.
In the first half, MSU controlled the flow of the game.Â It matched Alabama shot for shot and even held a lead heading into the closing seconds of the first half when the game took a crucial turn for the Bulldogs.
With .4 seconds Dee Bost fouled Releford on a 3-point attempt. The Bama guard calmly stepped to the line and made his three free-throw attempts, tying the game at 25-25 and killing Stateâ€™s momentum.
â€śI thought we took the last play of the half into the locker room, and we came out and played the first 5 minutes of the second half just like that,â€ť said Stansbury. â€śWe went in at halftime, it wasnâ€™t a very smart play by Dee and we were hanging our heads. They hit three 3s in the first 3 or 4 minutes of the second half and we were battling from that.Â That was basically the game.â€ť
Alabama exited the locker room and quickly took a five-point lead after Releford picked up three of his 10 points and Brian Bryant dribble the ball off his foot leading to an easy transition bucket for the Crimson Tide.
â€śThat was a big shot by Releford to start the second half to give us a little bit of a lead going into the press,â€ť said Alabama head coach Anthony Grant.
As Stansbury indicated, it was all over from there.
Mississippi State saw a five-point deficit quickly turn to 10, then 15 and it simply couldnâ€™t recover.
Arnett Moultrie had 25 points in the Starkville meeting between the programs, but it was a much different story in Tuscaloosa.Â The junior forward drew the double team virtually every time he touched the ball leading to a frustrating night for Moultrie and the Bulldogs.
â€śIâ€™ve been frustrated but I donâ€™t think it is affecting my game, only in the losing column,â€ť said Moultrie who scored just seven points to go with eight rebounds.
Stansbury said every time Moultrie caught it, he was hit with a double-team. â€¨â€śHe got a bunch of catches and they ran in and doubled him," Stansbury said. "They played a lot of zone and kept him from catching that ball some.â€ť
The final score indicates the game was a runaway by the Tide, Stansbury simply reflects on the one play where the tide turned.
â€śThe first half we didnâ€™t play great but we had the game at our pace and we were really defending them,â€ť he said. â€śWe held them to just 22 points until we gave up the three points right there before halftime, just a huge, huge bad play.â€ť
While Stansbury may not look at the big picture and the NCAA Tournament bubble, Moultrie does.
â€śIt is real disappointing because I just see it slipping away right before our eyes,â€ť he said. â€śAll we need is one win and I believe we can get on a winning streak.â€ť
Mississippi State returns to the hardwood on Wednesday when it takes on a struggling South Carolina team in Columbia, S.C.
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