What we learned as Alabama basketball wins 8th straight but is pushed by Mississippi State

Cecil Hurt
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Behind a 17-point performance by Herb Jones, Alabama (13-3, 8-0) extended its SEC winning streak to eight games with an 81-73 win over Mississippi State (9-7, 4-4) on Saturday at Coleman Coliseum.

Crimson Tide tested in final minutes 

Alabama faced true late-game adversity for the first time since its 94-90 win at Auburn on Jan. 9 and only the second time in SEC play.

After a 3-pointer by Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar made it a two-possession game  at 71-66 with three minutes to play, Alabama got three straight defensive stops and then traded free throws and 3-pointers until the final minute.

MSU came as close as three points but, as he did at Auburn, John Petty Jr. hit the decisive shot, a 3-pointer with 31.3 seconds to go.

No first-half avalanche but not awful 

After a 60-point first half at LSU, the law of basketball scoring gravity and Mississippi State’s tougher, more physical pace was sure to keep Alabama under that mark. The Crimson Tide still managed to score 40 points and hold a 40-35 lead at intermission, so things didn’t exactly turn into Glacier National Park.

The 3-point field goal percentage (47.4 on 9 of 19 shots) was still well above average, thanks to Josh Primo’s 4-of-5 effort. Mississippi State was much more aggressive at guarding Alabama on the perimeter than LSU, and had a decisive 22-10 edge in points in the paint in the first half. 

Short-handed but dodged bullet  

With Jordan Bruner out for at least three more weeks after meniscus surgery, Alabama lost another physical presence when reserve forward James Rojas was ruled out with an “undisclosed medical condition” just before game time.

Rojas had been an inside presence against LSU when he led the team with seven rebounds. Things looked to have taken an even grimmer turn when senior Herb Jones took a hard fall on a rebound attempt with six minutes remaining in the first half. Jones lay on the floor for a couple of minutes before getting up and jogging to the locker room, but managed to return for the final two minutes of the half.

Early in the second half, Alex Reese began limping and left the game to don a heavy knee brace but returned to action later in the game. 

There was no immediate word on Rojas’ potential availability for Tuesday night’s Alabama-Kentucky game in Tuscaloosa (6 p.m. CT, ESPN).

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt 

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