By JOEL COLEMAN
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Mississippi State is quickly developing a reputation as an NCAA Tournament dream killer.
The Bulldogs travelled to Tuscaloosa on Saturday and upset a team with high postseason aspirations for the second-straight game, topping Alabama 67-61 at Coleman Coliseum.
“It’s not at all playing the spoiler role (that motivates us),” Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said of his team’s latest conquest. “What we use is the fact that the teams that we’ve played the last two games are fighting to get in the tournament so we know we’re going to get their very best effort. The motivation is to understand what a high level we have to play at to compete against these teams and these last two wins are obviously back-to-back our best two wins of the year against very good teams that I think still will end up in the NCAA Tournament.”
Quinndary Weatherspoon, fresh off his dramatic, buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer on Tuesday against Vanderbilt, again carried the Bulldogs (12-14, 5-9). The dynamic freshman scored a team-high 15 points, including going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.
“I thought (Weatherspoon) was terrific, as usual,” Howland said. “We’re kind of taking it for granted now. He had 15 points again and played really good defense. His guy (that he was defending, Riley Norris,) didn’t get a shot off. That’s a huge plus for us because Norris is really good.”
Retin Obasohan and Shannon Hale each scored 22 points for Alabama, but the Crimson Tide (16-10, 7-7) saw their winning streak snapped at five.
“Give (Mississippi State) credit,” Alabama first-year head coach Avery Johnson said. “They were the hungrier team. I would say since I’ve been here, there’s not many games that I can say that our opposing team was hungrier than us.”
Seniors Craig Sword and Gavin Ware also had big games for MSU. Sword put up 13 while Ware overcame early foul trouble to score 12. I.J. Ready added 10 points.
Ready’s jumper with 9:02 left in the first half put his team up for the first time at 17-15. It was a lead that Mississippi State wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way. After the Bulldogs fell into an 11-4 hole early, Ready’s basket came in the midst of a 16-4 MSU run that put Mississippi State in the driver’s seat.
From there, the Bulldogs stretched their lead to as many as nine in the first half before an Alabama rally ended the first period with MSU up only three points at 32-29.
In the second half, Alabama closed a seven-point Mississippi State lead to just one at 58-57 with 4:27 to play before the the Bulldogs went on a quick 6-0 run to reassert control.
Ready drilled a jumper with 22 seconds left that put MSU up 64-57 and all but sealed the game.
“We were in control for a majority of the game,” Howland said. “That’s a nice way to play when you’re on the road.”
The MSU win snapped a six-game losing streak to Alabama and was the Bulldogs’ first victory in Coleman Coliseum since 2008.
It also marked the first time any player on MSU’s roster topped the Crimson Tide.
“It felt great,” Sword said. “Coach (Howland) has been preaching that if we’ll just stay together, we’ll have a lot of victories like this.”
Mississippi State has now won three of its last four games and will try to extend its hot streak on Wednesday in a 6 p.m. game at Texas A&M.