January 17, 2013 10:00:09 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- More than two weeks ago, the Mississippi State University men's basketball team suffered an embarrassing loss to Alabama A&M University, or how one member of the Bulldogs' staff put it, "Alabama with some stuff behind it."
It took days for the players and everybody associated with the program to get over the Dec. 30 home loss.
Sixteen days later, MSU experienced that same emotional feeling.
Levi Randolph scored a game-high 18 points, and the University of Alabama forced 21 turnovers en route to a 75-43 victory against MSU in a Southeastern Conference game at Humphrey Coliseum.
Rodney Cooper (17 points), Nick Jacobs (16 points, 11 rebounds), and Trevor Lacey (11 points, six assists) helped Alabama (10-6, 2-1 SEC) make up for the absence of leading scorer Trevor Releford.
"I thought our guys met the challenge first defensively, which led to some offensive opportunities for us on the other end," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said.
Randolph, Cooper, Jacobs, and Lacey also helped the Crimson Tide post the second-highest margin of victory by an opponent in the 38-year history of the Humphrey Coliseum.
"They know they lost bad," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "They know they didn't come out and compete tonight, and it was a lopsided score. Where it ranks in MSU history is of no material to them."
Alabama did whatever it wanted to do in the paint in the first half. In the second half, the Crimson Tide's dominance extended to the 3-point arc. Alabama used a 27-3 run stretching over both halves to stretch an eight-point halftime lead into a laugher that sent a majority of the announced crowd of 5,465 searching for the nearest exit.
On numerous possessions, MSU turned it over and allowed Alabama to run its secondary break and cash in on wide-open 3-pointers or uncontested layups. MSU went scoreless in the first three minutes of the second half without scoring and quickly faced a 21-point deficit that became an even bigger hole.
"I'm really disappointed in the way our guys played," Ray said. "I thought they let down right away when they found out Releford wasn't playing. The biggest disappointment I have is fact we didn't compete."
Releford, who leads the team with 16 points per game and is ninth in the SEC in minutes per game (31), watched from the bench with a severe ankle injury he suffered Monday in practice. Guards Randolph, Cooper, and Lacey picked up the slack by shooting 8 of 11 from 3-point range. Alabama shot a season-best 8 of 13 (61.5 percent) from 3-point range. It also was 19 of 28 (67.9) from the field in the second half, and shot 53.4 percent for the game. Alabama's shooting percentage from the field was the highest of any opponent against MSU this season, and the third time the Bulldogs have allowed a team to shoot better than 50 percent.
"We just wanted to put pressure on them, create turnovers, and get them out of rhythm," Grant said. "I just can't say it enough. I thought our defense created everything we did offensively, and that is going to be key for us going forward."
Alabama outscored MSU 38-18 in the paint, 25-11 off turnovers, and 13-2 off second-chance points. The Crimson Tide had 13 offensive rebounds.
"They were getting all the tipped balls, all the rebounds, and every second-chance shot," MSU junior guard Jalen Steele said. "They made every shot they put up. We did everything we could and they still made every shot. Everything went their way."
MSU, which entered the game 341st in the nation (of 345 Division 1 men's basketball programs) in assist-to-turnover ration, had six assists to go with 21 turnovers and 16 field goals. It was the fifth time MSU has had 20 or more turnovers in a game this season.
"We've been beaten badly before, but I didn't feel we competed in one aspect tonight," Ray said. "The defense faltered because we were giving the ball to them. I also thought we played as individuals instead of as a team."
While shaking his head in amazement at what happened, Ray was open and honest about his players' mentality after two victories to open SEC play. In the practices leading up to the game, the Bulldogs' first-year coach said he "saw this coming."
"You could tell in practice the last couple of days. The kids were satisfied with the 2-0 start," Ray said. "I wish I could pinpoint it. I don't know if it was youth or the fact we hadn't experienced success before or what. I always say reading the press clippings is like poison. The poison can't hurt you unless you drink it."
Freshman guard Fred Thomas (10 points) was MSU's only player in double figures.
While Ray would like to punish his team for its lackluster performance, he has no choice but to make sure it is mentally and physically charged for its game against the University of Tennessee at 3 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"With the way the schedule is, you've got basically two days of preparation to get ready for Tennessee," Ray said. "You can't go hard no matter how bad you lost because you have to be smart about the fact you only got eight guys you're playing (in the rotation)."