Another Injury, Another Loss for Alabama Basketball
STARKVILLE, Miss. — In a season marred by injuries and a transfer wavier being denied, there was no way it could get worse, right?
It did. Needing a win in its final Quadrant 1 game of the regular season, the University of Alabama men's basketball team could not deliver inside Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday night, falling to Mississippi State, 80-73.
"Tough loss," Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. "I thought our guys fought in the second half. We missed some layups, free throws, and three-pointers that we needed to go in. Proud of our guys. But it was not enough to be a team as talented as Mississippi State."
Worst of all, junior wing John Petty, Jr. suffered a right elbow injury that saw him exit and not return. He will have an X-ray and other tests done Wednesday to assess the damage.
He had 10 points and three rebounds when he left with 7:34 remaining in the first half.
"Probably the best shooter in the league not out there," Oats said when asked about the impact of Petty not being in the game.
In the immediate aftermath of when Petty left, the Crimson Tide went on a 7-0 run to take the lead, 34-28, but was unable to maintain it, as the Bulldogs were able take a 41-39 advantage into intermission.
Without Petty, and junior wing Herb Jones playing with a cast on his wrist, even more responsibility was laid on Crimson Tide guard Kira Lewis, Jr. The sophomore dropped 16 of his 29 points in the second half. He was an efficient 57 percent from the field, making 11 of his 19 attempts.
"I had to be more assertive when John left," Lewis said. "He is one of our offensive guys. Taking away his shooting and athleticism led to me being more aggressive."
Lewis is averaging 22.2 points over this last four games and Oats is taking notice of the extra work the Huntsville, Ala. product has been putting in.
"Kira is playing some of the best basketball of his career right now," Oats said. "He has been in the gym a lot lately so got to give him a lot of credit. He knows we are making a strong push to do what we can with the season. I am really happy for him."
To start the second half, the Bulldogs scored on their first six possessions, retaking the lead at 53-45 with 16:20 to go.
The Crimson Tide was able cut it within one or two multiple times, even tying it at 59 with 9:34 remaining, but a three-pointer from Bulldogs forward Reggie Perry gave Mississippi State the lead it would hold the rest of the game.
Perry was a force in the paint all night, notching a double-double, scoring 21 points to go a long with 12 rebounds.
"You know, Perry had a good night," Oats said. "He is a really good player and you can see why he is on draft boards."
Joining Petty and Lewis in double figures for the Crimson Tide was freshman guard Jaden Shackelford with 17 points, and transfer guard James "Beetle" Bolden with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
"I do not want to question our guys' effort," Oats said. "I thought they left it all on the line, especially Petty was out. Beetle [Bolden] is still getting an IV before every game. That kid is playing his heart out and he has given us every last bit of energy he has."
Continuing to play with a soft cast on his left wrist, Jones was vital on the defensive end, recording two steals, a block, and four rebounds.
But factor in the preseason ACL tears to junior-college transfer forward James Rojas and freshman forward Juwan Gary, and Alabama has more players not playing, or limited, than the five allowed on the court at one time.
"No," said Lewis, "I have not been a part of a team that has had this many injuries. It is hard because when one guy gets healthier, another guy goes down like tonight."
With NCAA tournament hopes all but gone, the Crimson Tide has three games remaining in the regular season and the SEC Tournament left to show itself worthy to the selection committee.
"We have to keep moving forward," Lewis said. "Keep playing hard. We will take the good and the bad from this game. Our goal is to get three more wins before the SEC tournament starts."