TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama men's basketball continued its blazing-hot start to Southeastern Conference play with an 81-73 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon.
It is the ninth straight win for the 18th-ranked Crimson Tide and it remained unbeaten against league foes at 8-0.
"It's actually good to play some close games," Alabama coach Nate Oats said postgame. "We had been hitting shots at a pretty high clip and blowing teams out so it's good to execute some late-game stuff.. I was a little bit disappointed with how we executed late but I was really pleased that we were able to figure out how to get the win."
Unlike the majority of the contests during this run for the Crimson Tide — the last three margin of victories been by 20, 31, and 30 points, respectively — the Bulldogs put up quite the fight as the game went back-and-forth.
But it did start with a Crimson Tide player coming out with a hot hand, as guard Josh Primo knocked down two three-pointers to give the home team an 8-6 advantage at the first media timeout.
A 13-3 run from Mississippi State put the Bulldogs on top 17-11. But Alabama would answer with a 9-2 run thanks to back-to-back breakaway dunks for wing Herbert Jones to take a 20-19 lead.
Primo went on to add two more triples to help give Alabama a five-point lead going into the locker room, 40-35. Across the first 20 minutes, the Crimson Tide connected on nine of its 19 three-point attempts.
The Crimson Tide (13-3, 8-0 SEC) built multiple double-digit leads in the second half, but never put the visitors from Starkville away until senior guard John Petty Jr. canned a three-pointer from the left wing to secure the victory with 31 seconds remaining.
"I think every shot JP takes is going to go in," said senior forward Alex Reese, who scored 11 points. "After the game, he told me he should've passed it to me, but I told him that he shouldn't have."
As a whole, Alabama shot 45.9 percent from the field (28-of-61) and 41.2 percent from three-point range (14-of-34). It also forced the Bulldogs to commit 16 turnovers and only shoot 28.6 percent from beyond-the-arc (4-of-14).
Before the game, it was announced that Crimson Tide forward James Rojas would be unavailable due to an undisclosed medical condition.
Consequently, Mississippi State took advantage of his and Jordan Bruner's absence in the paint, outscoring Alabama 38-26 in that department.
"We're hoping Rojas will be back for Kentucky," Oats said. "He's not doing well right now ... We will just have to see how he comes along over the next couple of days here."
Jones displayed an enormous amount of toughness when he took a hard fall on a rebound attempt and had to exit in the first half and finished with a team-high 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals, and three blocks.
Primo added a total of 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Petty and Shackelford rounded out Alabama's five double-digit scorers with 12 apiece.
"Being in games like this teaches us how to stay together regardless of the scoreboard," Jones said. "It teaches us how to win close games because that is what is going to matter most towards the end of the season."
Mississippi State (9-7, 4-4 SEC) guard D.J Stewart Jr. poured in a game-high 27 points, to go along with three rebounds and two assists. Guard Iverson Molinar dropped 19 points on only 5-of-19 shooting, while the Bulldogs starting frontcourt of Aboul Ado and Tolu Smith combined for 14.
Next up, Alabama will face Kentucky (5-9, 4-3 SEC) inside Coleman Coliseum at 6 p.m (CT) Tuesday on ESPN. Oats' squad beat the Wildcats by 20 at Rupp Arena back on Jan. 12.
"We'll take the win, we have a tough one coming in Tuesday," Oats said. "Kentucky looks like they got their mojo back with the big win over LSU today."