TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama had an answer for everything but the final score against Mississippi State, dropping its first league contest of the season, 56-52.
When the Bulldogs couldn’t be stopped in the paint, Alabama found a way to corral Renardo Sidney, limiting the 6-foot-10, 285-pound junior to eight points from the floor.
When Arnett Moultrie exploded for 25 points, Alabama found a way to hold the explosive forward scoreless in the game’s final 14 minutes.
But when Alabama needed one final stop, it didn’t come. The one thing taken for granted – the Bulldogs inept shooting from outside – came back and bit the Tide in the end. After going 0-for-14 from 3-point range, Dee Bost came back in the final 4:23 and went a perfect 3-3 for nine points.
Still, Alabama had a chance to tie the game, down three points with 10.1 seconds left and possession of the ball. Instead of going for the three, coach Anthony Grant had Trevor Lacey take an easy layup, playing the percentages. Following the score, Mississippi State guard Brian Bryant beat the defense deep on the inbounds play, taking a long pass from Bost and laying the ball in with 0.1 seconds left.
“I didn’t want us to jack one up and take a bad shot,” Grant said of the decision to take the easy two points and try to foul. “I wanted to put ourselves in a position to make a play at the end.
“They did a good job at the end of the game making the plays they needed. … We had opportunities.”
Player of the game: Bulldogs forward Arnett Moultrie took over the game for 34 minutes, laying waste to the Alabama defense. The lanky forward who transferred to Mississippi State from UTEP, was a match-up problem inside, using his size and athleticism to wiggle through defenders. He finished the night 10-14 from the field. He also did what no Alabama player could – get to the foul line. Moultrie hit 5 of 7 from the charity stripe, two more attempts than all Alabama players.
“He had a great game,” said Alabama guard Andrew Steele of Moultrie’s performance. “He got it going early and was really active. With his length at 6-11 he was tough to deal with.”
What we learned: Alabama can have troubles in the paint. The Tide defense simultaneously made the Bulldogs look brilliant and inept – contesting outside shots and then holding the door open in the paint. Mississippi State was just 3-17 from beyond the arc, getting the lion’s share of production on its 32 points in the paint.
That policy transferred to the other end of the court as well. Too often the Tide settled for shots, rather than drive to the basket and force the issue.
Turning point: When Alabama finally stopped Moultrie and negated the inside presence of Renardo Sidney, Bost stepped up and broke the Tide’s back. In the game’s final three minutes, the Bulldogs finally found their stroke and shot down any hopes of a road win for the Tide. Mississippi State guard Dee Bost broke the Bulldog’s 0-for-14 streak from three by hitting a trio of three-pointers in the game’s final 4:25.
Key stat: The Tide was beat in nearly every category under the boards. Alabama lost the battle in the paint (32 to 30), rebounds (34 to 30) and second-chance points (13 to 4).
What’s next: Alabama will host Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. CT
What to look for: Despite not walking away with a win, give the Tide credit. Alabama went into a road environment against a ranked team and didn’t let loose its grip until the final second of the game. Losing a game in that fashion hurts but it can serve as a valuable learning experience. When the Tide stopped settling for outside jumpers and took care of the basketball, Alabama looked once again like a top-25 team. No doubt Grant will hammer home those points moving forward.
Alex Scarborough covers University of Alabama athletics for TideNation. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexS_ESPN.