February 7, 2018 12:11:30 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State's winning streak is adapting -- and growing.
The first three games of the streak showed consistent offense against highly rated competition for the first time all season and it willed the Bulldog men's basketball team to wins; MSU scored at least 72 points in all three wins, the first time it has had such as streak.
Now it has won with defense.
MSU shook off its own shaky 3-point shooting (10.5 percent, 2-19) and second-half free throw struggles (10-19) by forcing Alabama to miss 13 of its final 16 shots as part of an equally bad 3-point shooting night (13.6 percent, 3-22). MSU won 67-63, snapping a four-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide (15-9, 6-5 Southeastern Conference).
"We were just talking about that when we were at Alabama: we have to go ahead and beat those guys," sophomore guard Tyson Carter said after his seven-point performance. "They've been beating us and that just made us go harder."
MSU coach Ben Howland added, "Our defense is why we won today, even though we're spending a lot of time trying to improve offensively. This is obviously our best win of the year."
The performance was the product of a plan executed perfectly.
Alabama brought one of the SEC's leading scorers, Collin Sexton, to the game and he delivered 18 points on 8-for-10 free throw shooting and three assists. MSU put the pressure on most of his supporting cast and they struggled.
"We knew they didn't have a lot of shooters on the floor," MSU freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon said. "We knew (freshman guard John) Petty was really their main shooter, so we sagged off (guard Dazon Ingram) and all those guys to make them make shots. We really helped on Sexton and sagged off the other guys to make them shoot 3's."
Ingram missed his lone field goal attempt and Braxton Key went 4-11 off the bench. Even Petty, Alabama's best perimeter shooter, struggled, going 1-for-8 and 1-for-7 from 3-point range.
The one outlier was Alabama forward Daniel Giddens, who made four of his five shots and all three of his free throws to score 11 points. He was Alabama's most effective offensive weapon until he fouled out with 6 minutes, 25 seconds left.
"He was really good in the first half in particular, going to him inside, and there going to him early in the second half was a problem," Howland said. "That helped because it took probably their best low post scorer out of the game."
MSU (18-6, 6-5) clearly got just enough offense to win and almost all of it came from the Weatherspoon brothers. Nick scored 18 and junior guard Quinndary had 13 with three assists and five rebound. Still, their defense was just as critical: the two combined for three steals and Nick Weatherspoon was Petty's primary defender as he went 1-for-8. Aric Holman and Abdul Ado added three blocks each.
"We didn't help ourselves by the way we didn't take care of the ball in the first half; I don't think I've coached a team that didn't have an assist by halftime," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. "Sometimes when you lose you want to look at what you did wrong, but you have to give Mississippi State credit. They were hungry tonight and they played like it, with a lot of passion and enthusiasm."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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