Alabama Wins The Dog Fight
The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs 82-74 in the unfriendly environment of the Humphrey Coliseum, or "The Hump," as many refer to it. Tonight, three players scored in double figures: Mark Sears led with 22 points, Latrell Wrightsell had 19 and five three-pointers, and Rylan Griffen had 17.
If you're an Alabama fan, this week has been extremely eventful. Nick Saban announced his retirement, Kalen DeBoer was named Alabama football's next head coach, and the university held DeBoer's introductory press conference. So a lot was going on in the world of Alabama.
Then we reached Highway 82, where the Crimson Tide were able to defeat the Bulldogs in front of a raucous fan base.
The crowd was in full force. There was barely any seating available unless you had credentials to The Hump's newly remodeled suites. The Bulldogs benefited from the excitement of their home fans, especially after defeating Tennessee a few days earlier. The Crimson Tide had their work cut out for them from the start.
Mississippi State led by nine following the first media timeout, but Alabama didn't stay quiet for long, tying the game early and going back and forth throughout the half.
Rylan Griffen scored 10 points in the first half, with the majority of his shots coming from the basket and the foul line. Griffen was opportunistic, to say the least; his three-point jumper was not dropping at the start of the game, but that did not waver his confidence as he was able to slice through the defense and get enormous buckets left and right.
Latrell Wrightsell Jr. was the game-changer in the first half. He had 11 points and was blazing hot from the outside. Wrightsell Jr. scored eight consecutive baskets in only a minute and 19 seconds. He made back-to-back three-pointers, reducing their deficit and giving the Crimson Tide their first lead of the game.
Mississippi State had an advantage in the paint, as has been the case with this Alabama squad due to a lack of depth in the big man position. However, the Crimson Tide were doing an excellent job of snatching rebounds and, as head coach Nate Oats phrased it, winning those "Blue Collar" points. Despite that edge, Alabama managed to maintain a two-point lead at halftime.
In the second half, we saw different types of mood swings. The Bulldogs scored the opening five points of the half to reclaim the lead, and Alabama then scored nine straight. Mark Sears had a quiet first half, scoring only five points, so it was only a matter of time before the SEC's leading scorer found his groove, and boy did he.
Sears scored five straight points early in the second half, which was enough to get him rolling and give Alabama their largest lead of ten.
"I think one of the deepest best backcourts in the country," Oats said. "Wrightsell is coming off the bench and is capable of scoring 20 any given night. We played Rylan at the four, and he's got some length and shows some toughness.
Mississippi State fought back to take the lead after a Tolu Smith layup, but Griffen answered right back with a layup, and that's when the fun started late in the game. Both teams were throwing heighmakers left and right. Players were diving on the floor for loose balls; every rebound was a battle to get, and if the ball was not handled properly, it was likely to be taken away. The Bulldogs kept fighting to recover the lead and win the game, but Alabama answered each time. Sears, Griffen, and Wrightsell Jr. were responsible for providing those responses.
"I mean, we've been battle tested before," said Wrightsell on handling the atmosphere in Humphrey Coliseum. "We understand how to get through adversity. We knew if we just stayed the course and played the game, it was going to even out."
"When our coaches believe in us," Wrightsell said. "They tell us to shoot the shots that we believe we can make. We work on it, we spend a lot of time in the gym, and we are able to hit those shots when they come to us."
When it appeared that Mississippi State was poised to seize control, all three of those guards hit some dagger-like buckets that silenced the crowd. However, the Bulldogs failed not capitalize on their opportunities at the free throw line, which cost them as time ran out. Alabama scored their last four free throws and Mississippi State missed their last four to seal the game as spectators headed for the exits, while visitor fans traveling along Highway 82 were chanting and having a good time as they watched the Crimson Tide win.
Estrada and Grant Nelson stood out on the defensive side of the ball. Nelson had the honor of guarding the All-Conference big man, Tolu Smith III, and he held his own against the 6-foot-11 big man. Estrada got two of the night's biggest steals, one on a driving layup early in the second half and another on Smith, which led to a three-pointer.
"He [Grant Nelson] was great," Oats said. "He used his length and stood him up, and he was able to do it without fouling so much. I think Grant showed us he could be that spacy five for us when we need him to because he causes problems on the offensive end with his skill set."
Alabama heads back home against Missouri on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
MBB vs MSU
Gallery Credit: SEC Media Portal