This loss didn't bother me as much as some of the others. I felt like the team was motivated and played hard, but they just didn't play well enough to get the win on the road.
It was an ugly, hard-to-watch game. I would imagine only the Bama and $tate die-hards managed to last through the whole thing. Neither team could make a shot, and the refs called so many fouls it became a long, drawn out, free throw shooting contest, as the teams combined for 58 attempts. This game is exhibit A as to why men's basketball needs to go to quarters. Nobody wants to watch nearly 60 free throws in a two and a half hour game.
Neither team was able to take control of the game. We led by 5 for much of the first half, but trailed by 2 going into halftime. Donta Hall landed on his injured wrist late in the first half, and had to leave the game, but thankfully he returned and seemed fine in the second half. The $tate fans booed his injury, and if you've ever been to a game over there you know that's not surprising. They are mostly a classless bunch, but they make up for it by being totally unknowledegable.
A slow start to the second half allowed $tate to build a 9 point lead, but our guys kept grinding and managed to come back and eventually re-take the lead. Sexton and Hall combined for an amazing steal around half-court when Sexton knocked the ball loose to Hall, who gave it back to Sexton, who threw an amazing over the shoulder alley-oop back to Donta. One key play in the game was around 5 minutes left, JP finally made a 3 to give us a one point lead, then after a defensive stop he hoisted a 30+ feet, contested brick about 3 seconds into the possession with nobody under the goal.
The perimeter shooting was atrocious in this game. We were 3 of 18 from three point range. Key made one, Petty made the one wide-open shot referenced above, but was otherwise 0 for 7, and AJ made a desperation prayer late in the game, but then picked up a technical for calling a timeout that we didn't have. MSU missed the free throw, but then made one of two to put the game away. It's interesting that our last two trips to Starkville have resulted in late game technical fouls for calling timeouts.
My biggest beef with this game was our shot selection in the final 4 minutes of the game. I don't know whether to put more blame on the players or the coaching staff, but as mentioned above, the refs were calling the game fairly tight, and we were not making any perimeter shots. We totally abandoned the post game and the dribble drive in the final minutes in favor of chucking 3s, despite not trailing by more than 4 until the final 30 seconds.
Dan Giddens fouling out was a big factor in the game. He played well the 15 minutes he managed to stay on the court, scoring 11 points, but his foul trouble meant 8 minutes of mostly unproductive playing time from Galin Smith. We were also forced to go smaller late in the game, which hurt us on the glass.
Sexton had a good game with 18 points and 5 rebounds, but he did go 0 for 7 from beyond the arc. I've been critical of AJ at times, and while he is a liability on defense and tends to dribble too much, he always plays hard, never quits, and is shooting as well as anybody on the team now. I would consider playing him more over Petty and maybe running him through some of the same screens to see if we can get him some open looks. He ended up with 9 points in 15 minutes. It was also good to see Key play fairly well, he ended up with 11 points and 6 rebounds. JP is killing us right now, he's a defensive liability, he's not making any shots, and he's compounding the problem with poor decision making. It's time for Herb to replace him in the starting lineup, in my opinion. I'm also a little surprised we didn't give Alex a chance to come in and break the perimeter drought, but I suppose Coach Avery was concerned he wouldn't be able to match up with $tate's physicality.
Due to the early start I watched this game at a local establishment on my way home from work, and am pleased to report there were another 7 or 8 Bama basketball fans there, and they even put the audio on for us. Speaking of which, SEC Network's coverage was terrible. We missed live action at times because they were showing replays of Howland's "mic'ed up" segments, they routinely failed to explain whistles when the ref was not in the screen shot, and they neglected to show replays of several controversial foul calls.
The loss drops us to 6-5 in the SEC and a four way tie for the coveted 4th seed in the SEC tournament. Due to some other games not going our way lately, we have dropped to 43 in the RPI. I still think we need 3 more wins to feel good about our chances on selection Sunday.
Up next, the 15th ranked Tenneessee Vols come to Tuscaloosa for a 5pm start Saturday evening. I know auburn beat them and has a better record, but UT is the most complete team in the SEC in my opinion. The game is a sellout, and hopefully a good atmosphere can will our guys to another very high quality, and much needed, win. SEC Network will be handling the television broadcast again.