By JOEL COLEMAN
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Mississippi State did a lot of the things head coach Ben Howland likes to see when the Bulldogs battled Alabama on the road Saturday. MSU won the rebounding battle and limited the Crimson Tide to just 32.7 percent shooting from the field. However, it was the shots that the Tide took when the Bulldogs couldn’t defend that made all the difference.
Mississippi State lost 71-62 to Alabama at Coleman Coliseum. The Crimson Tide earned the victory, in large part, thanks to getting to the free throw line 36 times and making 31 from the charity stripe.
“We were just fouling too much,” MSU’s Quinndary Weatherspoon said. “We were putting them at the line. That was the difference in the game. I think both teams played well, but they just made a lot of free throws. We fouled too much.”
Alabama’s 31 made free throws were the most by any Mississippi State opponent this year. MSU (13-7, 4-4) also had 18 turnovers which Alabama (13-7, 6-2) turned into 23 points.
Despite it all, the Bulldogs still had a chance to pull out the win down the stretch. Mississippi State trailed by as much as 12 points in the second half before Weatherspoon put MSU up 58-57 with 6:08 to go. Alabama responded though with a 13-0 run that all but ended State’s chances.
“We had too many turnovers,” Howland said of MSU’s struggles in the late going. “There was a couple of times we turned the ball over. A couple of times we had good drives and just missed at the rim, and I thought their defense tightened.”
Lamar Peters led Mississippi State with 13 points in the game. Schnider Herard added 12 and Weatherspoon totaled 11.
Braxton Key scored a game-high 19 points for the Crimson Tide, including a clutch 3-pointer with 5:31 to go that put Alabama up for good right after Weatherspoon had given State the lead.
The Crimson Tide would then hit seven more free throws down the stretch to shut the door on the Bulldogs.
“You have to give that team credit,” Herard said of Alabama. “They did a really good job. We did the best we could to stop them and keep them from getting to the free throw line but they just did a good job.”
Injury woes also hampered MSU’s hopes during the game. The team’s lone senior, guard I.J. Ready, suffered a calf injury in pregame warmups. Ready played, but was pulled from the game after seeing just two minutes of action.
“I think it hurt (not having Ready in) because of the leadership he brings each and every night,” Weatherspoon said. “It hurt not having him defensively because we really couldn’t stay in front of the ball. That led to them getting a lot of shots towards the rim and getting fouled and those free throws basically won the game for them.”
Howland was unsure how long the injury will keep Ready out of action going forward.
E.J. Datcher also left the game in the second half for State as he dealt with cramping.
Yet the biggest factor in the contest was Alabama’s proficiency at getting to the free throw and sinking the shots. That proved to be too much for Mississippi State to overcome in the end.
“You want to make them earn it from the field and not from the free throw line,” Howland said. “Obviously 36 foul shots is a lot of foul shots. Credit them. They attacked the basket and did a good job of getting to the line.”