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MSU Men’s Hoops Drops 81-73 Decision to No. 18 Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama – D.J. Stewart Jr. fired in a SEC career-high 27 points and collected a career-best four steals, but No. 18 Alabama was able to fend off the Mississippi State men’s basketball team by an 81-73 decision at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday.

The SEC standings leading Crimson Tide (13-3, 8-0 SEC) extended the home team’s winning streak to eight consecutive games in the series dating back to the 2016-17 season. Mississippi State (9-7, 4-4 SEC) has split its two games on the season against top 25 opponents.

The 27 points marked Stewart Jr.’s second-highest scoring output of his career en route to his fifth outing of 20-plus points on the season. He pumped in 32 points against Dayton on 12/12. Stewart Jr.’s previous SEC scoring mark was a 24-point performance during State’s victory over No. 13 Missouri on 01/05.

Stewart Jr. has produced double figures in 15 of 16 games on the season. The redshirt sophomore tacked on a career-best four steals, three rebounds and a block.

Iverson Molinar joined Stewart Jr. in double figures as he piled up 19 points coupled with three steals and two rebounds. He has chipped in 10-plus points during 12 of his 13 appearances in 2020-21.

Tolu Smith worked his way to eight points, a game-leading nine rebounds, a career-best three steals and two assists.

Abdul Ado and Cameron Matthews tacked on six points apiece for the Bulldogs. Ado swatted away three blocks, while Matthews hauled down seven rebounds and totaled two steals.

Deivon Smith and Javian Davis rounded out the scoring. Smith tallied five points, two assists and two rebounds, whereas Davis notched two points, four rebounds and a block against his former team.

Mississippi State recorded a season’s best 13 steals, which matched its third-highest total versus a SEC opponent under Ben Howland. The 13 steals were the most for the Bulldogs in a game since tallying 14 at Arkansas on 02/16/2019.

For the contest, MSU came away with a 27-of-61 shooting effort from the field (44.3 percent), a 4-of-14 clip from three-point range (28.6 percent) and an efficient 15-of-17 mark at the foul line (88.2 percent).

The Bulldogs tucked away a 36-32 rebounding advantage and held a 38-26 advantage in paint points. State managed seven assists against 16 turnovers.

Alabama countered with a 28-of-61 overall shooting mark (45.9 percent), converted on 14-of-34 on its triples (41.2 percent) and sank 11-of-13 from the charity stripe (84.6 percent).

All five members of the Crimson Tide starting five reached double figures. Herbert Jones filled the stats sheet with 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Joshua Primo added 16 points followed by John Petty Jr. (12 PTS), Jaden Shackelford (12 PTS) and Alex Reese (11 PTS).

FROM THE BENCH – COACH HOWLAND

“I thought our guys really played hard. I thought they really played tough. I thought we really battled and went after every 50-50 ball with all our might and all our strength. There were a lot of positives today even though we lost the game on the road against a really good team, who’s the hottest team in our league. The last three games, they’ve won by an average of 27 points a game against good teams. We had a chance there. We’re at a three-point game [76-73] with [under] a minute to go, and they make a tough three on us. We got mismatched with Tolu [Smith] on [Jahvon] Quinerly there.”

“I thought D.J. [Stewart Jr.] was absolutely phenomenal today at both ends of the floor. When you see when D.J. was in the game and I got him a little bit more rest, we were even with them. Bottom line is when he’s in the game, that’s when we’re at our best. We have to give him a rest. I thought our halfcourt [defense] was pretty good. It’s just that we gave up 18 points off of our turnovers. We gave up too many points in our transition, halfcourt [defense] was pretty good.”

“We outboarded them. They shot the ball from where they shoot well from, the three. They made 14 [from the three] and had a number of them open. I thought our guys showed a lot of fight and a lot of determination coming off our worse performance of the year. We came back here and gave ourselves a chance to win against the hottest team in our league, a team that is [ranked] 16th in the country [in the USA Today coaches poll]. I think they’ve won eight or nine in a row now. Give them credit, they’re a very, very good team.”

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Alabama jumped out to an 8-4 lead with 16:26 remaining after Joshua Primo knocked down a pair of three-pointers 38 seconds apart.

The Bulldogs found their bearings and knocked down their next six shot attempts en route to a 13-3 spurt over the next 3:59 off the clock.

Iverson Molinar ignited the charge with a runner in the lane followed by an Abdul Ado jump hook to even the tally at 8-8 with 15:18 remaining.

D.J. Stewart Jr. dialed up a right wing triple for the first of his 15 opening half points. Molinar hit a stepback midrange jumper, Tolu Smith added a layup and Stewart Jr. delivered a driving layup to make it 17-11 with 12:27 left.

Ahead 19-13 at 10:54 mark, Alabama fired back with seven consecutive points of its own capped by a Herbert Jones dunk courtesy of a Jahvon Quinerly steal to put the Crimson Tide up 20-19 with 9:29 to go.

The two teams played within a single possession of each other before Alabama used an eight-point flurry. Primo sank the Crimson Tide’s 10th trey of the opening 20 minutes to push the advantage to 40-33. Stewart Jr. rattled home two free throws to bring the halftime score to 40-35.

Alabama kept its momentum through halftime and took its largest lead at 49-38 on a Primo layup with 17:32 remaining.

Mississippi State dug deep and got back within a single possession, 54-51, as Deivon Smith buried a left wing three-pointer at the 13:35 mark. Stewart Jr. and Tolu Smith also provided two baskets each.

The Crimson Tide was able to regain a nine-point edge, 60-51, on a Jaden Shackleford bucket with 10:30 on the clock.

The Bulldogs had one final push as Molinar found Stewart Jr. for a trifecta at the top of the key, and Cameron Matthews secured a layup off an offensive rebound to pull State within 76-73 inside the final minute.

Alabama salted the game away on a late shot clock three-pointer from the reigning SEC Player of the Week, John Petty Jr. with 31.3 seconds on the clock. Primo put the finishing touches on the eight-point decision with a dunk during the closing seconds.

 UP NEXT 

Mississippi State heads into the heart of its four-game SEC road swing and meets No. 6 Tennessee on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT from Thompson-Boling Arena, televised by the SEC Network and available online courtesy of the Watch ESPN app.

Visit www.HailState.com for the latest news and information on the men’s basketball program. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets by searching ‘HailStateMBK’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.