Alabama holds off Mississippi State's late comebackBy Cody Estremera | 01/20/2018 11:47pm
Braxton Key finished with a season high 16 points in the 68-62 win over Mississippi State.
With 1:17 left in the game Alabama was tied with Mississippi State. Freshman John Petty threw up a three-point shot that clanged off the rim. Forward Braxton Key caught it and went up with both hands, dropping in the go-ahead basket, sending Coleman Coliseum into a frenzy.
“Coaches have been challenging me to get more offensive rebounds,” Key said. “They think I’m an athletic guy who can get more offensive rebounds and help the team. I saw an opportunity and no one boxed me out, just to make a play for my team.”
Alabama’s 68-62 win on the season didn’t come as easy as the first half looked. The Crimson Tide built up a 20-point lead at one point in the first half, going into halftime up 19. The team was rolling, shooting over 50 percent from the floor and shooting 50 percent from three.
Then the second half started.
Mississippi State came out firing in the second half. The Bulldogs scored six of the first eight points in the second half, chipping away at Alabama’s lead. By the time Alabama took its first timeout of the second half, Mississippi State had cut the lead down to just nine.
“There was not as much ball movement,” Johnson said. “We didn’t do a great job on the boards. Peters got away from us a couple of times… This was a great learning lesson for us.”
With 6:50 left in the game, Mississippi State tied it for the first time since the score was 0-0. From there the teams would go shot-for-shot, until Key’s layup.
Collin Sexton was out for his second straight game with an abdominal injury. Against Auburn, Petty stepped up. Against the Bulldogs, it was Key and Daniel Giddens turn.
Giddens dominated the first half, leading all scorers with 10 points. He finished with a career high 13 points, three blocks and four rebounds. Key had his best game since returning from his knee injury. He led Alabama with 16 total points, nine of which came in the second half, five rebounds and three steals.
“I saw a focus in practice,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Practice means a lot to us… I saw it in practice. He had one of his best practices since he arrived on campus yesterday. He just put it together. He had a laser focus tonight... I think he really put them in a bind when he was in the four position.”
One of the keys for Alabama is ball movement. That was evident in throughout the game, but most of all in the first half. Alabama made 25 shots, 16 of which came off an assist. Only four made field goals didn’t come off an assist in the first half.
“I thought we did a great job of moving the ball,” Key said. “I think another thing we did well tonight was moving bodies. I think we found open spots. That’s one thing that is emphasized. When you drive, bigs have to find the open spot. I think Donta [Hall], DG [Giddens] and Galin [Smith] did a good job of finding open spots and making easy passes.”
Alabama did do a good job of slowing down Mississippi State’s leading scorer Q Weatherspoon. He finished with 12 points, but he failed to convert a three, going 0-3 from deep.
Alabama travels to Ole Miss for its next game on Tuesday, Jan. 23.