TUSCALOOSA — One game after watching a 21-point advantage dissipate to nothing in a double-overtime loss on the road, Alabama made this one stick in its return home Wednesday night.
Despite a somewhat slow start, the Crimson Tide found its groove late in the first half to produce its most dominant victory of the Nate Oats era with 90-69 rout of visiting Mississippi State in its SEC home opener inside Coleman Coliseum.
“I thought we went into halftime on a run, came out of halftime on a run and kind of closed down any runs they made,” Oats said Wednesday night following his first SEC win at Alabama. “The defensive effort in the second half was as good as we’ve had (this season), ... proud of our guys.”
Junior wing John Petty Jr. led five Alabama (8-6, 1-1 SEC) scorers in double figures with 18 points and six rebounds, while sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. added 17 points and a team-leading eight rebounds and four assists. Graduate senior guard James “Beetle” Bolden and junior forward Galin Smith added 11 points apiece while freshman guard Jaden Shackelford scored 10 points on 2 of 10 shooting.
“Give them credit, I thought Lewis and Petty were terrific, and they really have been all year long,” Bulldogs head coach Ben Howland said. “It’s really a style that when Lewis is able to penetrate and create so much with his quickness and his speed, it’s very difficult because they spread you out.”
Junior guard Nick Weatherspoon led Mississippi State (9-5, 0-2 SEC) with 20 points while sophomores Nick Perry and Robert Woodard II added 14 points apiece in the loss. Both Perry and Weatherspoon fouled out late in the second half.
Here are three takeaways from Alabama’s dominating win over Mississippi State:
1. Strong inside play sparks Tide offense late in first half.
In a first half full of runs, it was a late dedication to pounding the ball inside that seemed to snap Alabama’s lagging offense out of an 0-for-8 shooting funk.
That nearly 5-minute shooting slump, coupled with a 19-10 run from Mississippi State, saw an 8-point advantage turn into a 1-point deficit with the Bulldogs leading 24-23 with 6:11 remaining in the opening half.
Smith, making just his fourth start of the season, then powered in back-to-back post moves in the game’s 15th minute to get things going.
“I think G’s starting to figure it out, ... he’s really starting to play well, I’m happy for him,” Oats said of Smith. “Coach Hodgson works with our bigs, he calls (Smith) ‘Old Faithful,’ because he just shows up and gives us everything he has every day. He’s going to be big for us in SEC play. He’s got experience in the SEC and I think it showed tonight.”
An ensuing layup by Lewis followed by back-to-back kick-out 3s from Petty and Bolden sparked five straight made field goals — coupled with a one-handed slam by Alex Reese and back-to-back layups from Lewis — as Alabama made 8 of 10 to pull ahead by double-digits, 42-32, with 43 seconds left in the opening half.
“It was a big spark for us because we got the ball inside, moved it around, and G (Smith) made great plays back-to-back,” Lewis said. “So just getting those two buckets and getting great stops to push it and run it helped us a lot in the game.”
2. Petty continues strong midseason surge.
Oats calls him Alabama’s best two-way player given his newfound dedication to defense and a consistent offensive game that wasn’t there last season.
Petty showed both sides of his game Wednesday, including making several key emotionally-charged shots that helped fuel the Tide in the second half.
One of those came with 8:11 left in the game on a kick-out pass from Lewis right in front of the Alabama bench that rattled home for a 70-53 advantage. Petty’s step-back trey capped a 12-1 run over a 5-minute span that seemed to solidify the lopsided nature of the win.
“Petty’s capable of making tough shots,” Oats said. “I think it was a big shot that we needed, the bench kind of erupted, the guys got some energy on the floor, the crowd erupted and I thought our students were great. It was great to be back home.”
With another 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting Wednesday, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, Petty is now averaging 20.4 points while reaching double-digit scoring in 10 of Alabama’s last 11 games.
And he’s not just doing it on the scoreboard. Over the past five games, Petty is averaging a team-leading 21.4 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Petty’s prowess from the outside also helped spark some of his teammates perimeter game, with Bolden and Shackelford each making a pair of 3s in the effort as Alabama finished 10 of 24 from outside.
3. Reese puts on block party at Coleman.
Known more for his perimeter shooting than post presence, Reese proved he could make use of his 6-foot-9 frame just as well.
In a game where he missed both his 3-point tries, Reese found other ways to contribute with a career-high three blocks to go along with five points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.
Reese also added a massive one-handed slam during Alabama’s late first-half charge and drew the final foul of the night for Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry before making 1 of 2 free throws with 6:56 remaining.