By JOEL COLEMAN
There’s plenty of basketball left to play, but the Southeastern Conference portion of Mississippi State’s schedule is off to a rocky start.
Alabama bottled up and frustrated Mississippi State as the Bulldogs lost a 68-58 decision to the Crimson Tide in both teams’ SEC opener on Tuesday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
“That was a tough loss and a tough way to start out the conference season,” MSU head coach Ben Howland said. “Credit Alabama. They really did a good job defensively.”
MSU’s 58 points scored were a season low for the Bulldogs (9-4, 0-1). Mississippi State shot just 37 percent (19-of-52) from the field and star sophomore guard Quinndary Weatherspoon was held to his lowest output of the season as he scored just seven points.
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson knew limiting Weatherspoon would be key for the Crimson Tide (8-5, 1-0) to find success.
“He’s an All-SEC player, so the smart thing to do is to give him a lot of attention,” Johnson said. “Coach Howland does a good job of moving him all over the floor, so we just tried to give him different looks.
“We tried to keep (Weatherspoon) off balance and fortunately, he missed some shots.”
Weatherspoon made only two of his 11 shots.
Only two MSU players scored in double figures. Mario Kegler led the Bulldogs with 12 points. Former Starkville High player Tyson Carter added 10.
Alabama was paced by 13 points apiece from Avery Johnson, Jr. and Dazon Ingram. Ingram also led the Tide with nine rebounds to help Alabama out-rebound the Bulldogs by 17, which is the largest margin this season for MSU.
Despite that, Mississippi State had its chances.
MSU raced out to an early 9-3 lead in the game before Alabama went on a 16-2 run to put the Bulldogs in a hole midway through the first half.
“We were way anxious and not understanding how we have to play offensively as a team,” Howland said of why Alabama was able to pull ahead.
By halftime, the Crimson Tide led 32-20. Shortly after though, MSU found new life.
The Bulldogs began the second half on an 8-0 run that was a sign of things to come. By the 11:20 mark, Mississippi State had evened things at 42-42. After the teams traded baskets to make it 44-44, Alabama finally pulled away for good.
Ingram had a pair of layups to put the Crimson tide up 48-44 and Alabama eventually stretched its advantage all the way out to 14 points at 64-50 before settling for the 10-point win.
MSU was left shaking its head at not being able to fully get over the hump.
“It was very frustrating,” Kegler said. “We couldn’t ever take the lead back from them and that was very frustrating.”
Mississippi State will attempt to bounce back from the loss on Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to LSU for a 2:30 p.m. game.