STARKVILLE • Mississippi State got off to a slow start at Alabama two weeks ago and spent the entire second half clawing its way back.
The Bulldogs were behind by a dozen at halftime but scored 50 points in the second half and cut the deficit to three four times in the final minute only to fall short, 83-79.
MSU looks to snap a two-game skid and also break even with the visiting Crimson Tide tonight at 8 on the SEC Network.
In order to do that, the Bulldogs will have to be better offensively at the beginning of the game. It’s also an issue that arose in a 71-67 loss to No. 5 Kentucky on Saturday in which State trailed by 15 at the break.
“It starts with our defense,” said MSU coach Ben Howland. “If we’re taking it out of the net as opposed to taking it off the backboard, there’s a big difference because we do a good job when we’re out in transition where we can take advantage of numbers.”
The Bulldogs (16-7, 4-6 SEC) certainly struggled in the paint against Alabama the first time around. The Tide scored 54 points down low which allowed them to win despite shooting just 1 of 15 from the perimeter.
“We need to have better help defense,” said forward Reggie Perry, who led MSU with 18 points against Alabama. “They scored 54 points (in the paint) last game so we want to make sure that we help each other out and guard each possession the right way.”
Alabama senior forward Donta Hall was the biggest thorn in the Bulldogs’ side down in the post. The 6-foot-9, 230-pounder went off for 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting in the first meeting, well above his 11 point scoring average.
“He’s a really good player and is playing a very high level,” Howland said. “He leads the SEC in double-doubles. In conference play, he’s getting 9.4 rebounds and (10.8) points and blocks shots. He’s gotten better every year and has really improved his game.”
The Crimson Tide (15-8, 6-4 SEC) have claimed four of their last six games including back-to-back wins over Georgia (89-74) and Vanderbilt (77-67) of late.
Freshman guard Kira Lewis Jr. is Alabama’s leading scorer at 14.3 points and had nine in the previous game against Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs continue to be paced by senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon at 17.9 points, which ranks third in the SEC.