TUSCALOOSA, Ala. • Mississippi State has only played one true road game this season.
Coach Ben Howland and the Bulldogs now face back-to-back road tests, beginning tonight in a venue in which they haven’t had much success. MSU travels across the state line to Alabama at 6 p.m. on the SEC Network in search of just its second win at Coleman Coliseum since 2008.
The Bulldogs have only won once in their last 10 trips to Tuscaloosa (67-61 in 2016) and are just 15-80 there all-time. The Crimson Tide edged out an 83-79 victory there last year although State was later captured a season split with an 81-62 win in Starkville.
“The pace of play and handling their pressure defensively is going to be critical,” said MSU coach Ben Howland. “Not getting sped up on offense to where we’re shooting ill-advised shots. The most important thing on offense is taking good shots.”
Shot selection is something that stuck in the craw of Howland after watching film of the Bulldogs’ SEC 80-68 home loss to Auburn on Saturday to open conference play. Mississippi State (9-4, 0-1 SEC) hit a lull midway through the first half and allowed the Tigers to close on a 20-6 run in the final 8:50.
“We were playing in front of really the biggest crowd that we’ve had all season and our anxiety really showed up in our offense,” Howland said. “We’ve got to have better poise. Now it’ll be tested even more when you’re on the road and playing in a foreign environment where it’s us against the world.”
Alabama (7-6, 0-1) also stumbled out of the gate in league play, falling at Florida 104-98 in double overtime on Saturday.
After Avery Johnson was ousted as coach after last season, Nate Oats took over a Crimson Tide team that currently leads the conference averaging 83.9 points and 11.2 3-pointers made per game.
“They’re shooting it way better and they’re pushing it,” said MSU guard Nick Weatherspoon. “I think that’s some of the things that (Oats) has added, them pushing it real hard and being able to shoot the ball. They’re shooting it great right now.”
Alabama’s offense is spearheaded by a pair of guards. Junior John Petty Jr. and sophomore Kira Lewis Jr. are both scoring 16.6 points per game.
“Lewis and Petty, there’s not a better pair of guards in our league anywhere,” Howland said. “Those guys are really talented. They can both shoot it, drive you and create for others. They do so many things well.”