Saturday, February 21, 2004
» Box Score
By Ralph D. Russo, AP Sports Writer
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Kennedy Winston dribbled between his legs, took a jab step and threw a head fake. He still couldn't get Branden Vincent out of his face.
The Alabama forward simply faded away and launched over Vincent's outstretched hand, falling back toward his bench while the 18-footer ripped through the net.
It was that kind of day for the Crimson Tide -- and boy did they ever need it.
Winston scored a career-high 31 points to lead Alabama to a 77-73 upset of No. 4 Mississippi State on Saturday, snapping the Bulldogs' eight-game winning streak.
Alabama (13-10, 5-7 Southeastern Conference) gave its NCAA tournament resume a much-needed boost. The Crimson Tide, who have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, came in having lost six of seven, and were 1-6 on the road overall.
Three of the Tide's recent losses have been by four points or less.
"We're a team that nobody even ever, ever thought we'd have a discussion about the NCAA tournament this late in February. Who's kidding who? We're just going to play hard and see what happens,'' Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said.
Lawrence Roberts scored 23 points and Timmy Bowers had 14 for the Bulldogs (21-2, 10-2), who reached their highest ranking in the AP poll in four decades this week.
Winston thwarted Mississippi State's late run with one of the few shots he made from close in. He got free for a layup and was fouled, then converted the three-point play to make it 63-58 with 3:27 left.
"They hit some great shots, you've got to give them credit,'' Roberts said. "But we just didn't buckle down and play with the energy and the defensive toughness we usually do.''
Winston went 8-of-10 from the free throw line over the final 1:25 to keep Mississippi State at bay.
He was 13-for-15 from the line for the game and Alabama was 23-for-28. Emmett Thomas added 16 points, shooting 4-for-5 from 3-point range.
Alabama, the best 3-point shooting team in the SEC, came out firing from long range to start the second half and put together a 12-0 run on nothing but 3s.
Thomas made consecutive shots from behind the arc, and Earnest Shelton and Antoine Pettway did the same, and suddenly Alabama was up 44-33.
"They made the shots, even the contested ones,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.
Bowers made a three-point play to cut it to 51-44, but it didn't look like the Bulldogs could make enough shots to keep up with the Tide.
After Winsome Frazier made a 3-pointer to pull Mississippi State to 57-49 and ignite the sellout crowd, Winston hit his highlight reel fallaway over Vincent to swing momentum back to Alabama with 7:50 left.
Winston was 8-for-14, but downplayed his sharp shooting.
"Fortunately, it was going in today for me,'' the sophomore said.
The Bulldogs had one last run in them as they went to their trap and put Alabama in scramble mode.
When Bowers made a 3 after a turnover, the lead was down to 60-58 with 3:54 left.
But Winston stopped the run and quieted the crowd with his three-point play, and the best Mississippi State could do was hit a few desperation 3s in the closing minutes.
Vincent wasn't about to write off Mississippi State's first loss since Jan. 13 as just one of those days.
"You've got to take it personally,'' he said. "This is a home game. We're supposed to be one of the top teams in this conference. So for us to come around and give up a win here -- it's hard.''
Alabama shot 50 percent from the field and even outrebounded the best rebounding team in the SEC 34-31.
The Crimson Tide were on from the start, making their first five shots. Alabama's first nine field goals were jumpers.
Still, the Tide went into halftime trailing 33-32 when Roberts made a 3-pointer with time winding down.