NCAA Basketball

No. 6 Alabama tries again for SEC title at Mississippi State

Sixth-ranked Alabama squandered its first opportunity to clinch the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship.

The Crimson Tide will get another chance for their first SEC title since 2002 when they faces Mississippi State on Saturday in Starkville, Miss.

Alabama (18-6, 13-2) fell apart in the second half of an 81-66 loss at No. 20 Arkansas on Wednesday.

"Arkansas outplayed us," Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. "They were ready to go. It seemed like every loose ball they were getting."

The Tide committed a season-high 32 fouls and got outscored by 24 points at the foul line, shooting just eight free throws compared to the Razorbacks' 43. It was the most free throws by an Alabama opponent this season.

"On some of those (fouls), our guys were late and not locked into what they should have been doing," Oats said. "We just kept sending them to the free-throw line.

"We have to defend without fouling. We can't put them on the line 43 times and expect to win a game."

Alabama's Herbert Jones and Jaden Shackelford fouled out, and John Petty Jr. was ejected with 1:01 remaining after being called for his second technical of the game.

"I told the guys after the game that I thought we had a lot of guys worrying about the officiating," Oats said. "If you worry about stuff you can't control, then you are not going to be very good about things you do have control over."

Alabama held a six-point lead early in the second half but got outscored 42-21 the rest of the way.

"Going into Mississippi State, we have got to do a lot better, play harder and come in more focused," Oats said. "We can't get out-toughed like I thought we did (Wednesday)."

The Bulldogs (13-11, 7-8) have won two in a row after a midseason slide. Mississippi State ended Ole Miss' four-game winning streak on Feb. 20 and routed South Carolina 69-48 on Wednesday.

"Our confidence is good," said Tolu Smith, who had 13 rebounds and nine points against the Gamecocks. "Going through adversity in the middle of the season during that rough patch is good on our team as a unit. Being together as one as we go through ups and downs is good for this team going into big games against Alabama and heading into the conference tournament."

The Tide defeated the Bulldogs 81-73 on Jan. 23 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In its past four victories, Mississippi State held its opponents to an average of 54.8 points and a collective 32.9 percent shooting from the floor.

"We have to keep playing together and keep playing hard," said D.J. Stewart Jr., who scored 15 points against South Carolina. "We have to keep this thing going."

Mississippi State held South Carolina to 29 percent shooting and 19 percent from 3-point range. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Gamecocks 49-24, their largest rebounding margin against an SEC opponent since 2002.

"I thought our defense was fantastic again," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. "I love the rebounding."

The Bulldogs had 16 assists on 24 baskets after having 15 assists on 25 baskets against Ole Miss.

"Back-to-back games where we've really done a good job of sharing the ball," Howland said. "Everybody was doing it, and that was really big. That was a really good team win."

--Field Level Media

Updated February 25, 2021

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