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Mississippi State 80, Alabama 73: Another injury may have popped Bama’s bubble

In its last chance for another quality win in the regular season, Alabama fought valiantly but couldn’t keep pace at Mississippi State, falling 80-73 in a matchup of fringe NCAA bubble teams.

What did we learn today?: There just aren’t enough working parts left for the Crimson Tide to be a true contender. John Petty was the latest to fall victim to the injury bug, leaving the court in obvious pain at the under-8 timeout in the first half. Replays showed that his left arm got caught at a bad angle during a loose ball pileup, and when he finally returned to the bench in the second half it was with a brace covering most of that arm. The junior from Huntsville was off to a very promising start Tuesday night, scoring eight points in nine minutes. But his loss was felt just as much on the defensive end, where his size and movement skills have helped him become Bama’s second-best stopper. Between Petty’s absence and Herbert Jones’ limitations with a broken wrist and foul trouble, the Bulldogs did as they pleased on offense, particularly inside where they held a 42-30 advantage in paint points. MSU shot better than 59 percent in the second half and 52.6 percent for the game.

With just three games left in the regular season, any realistic hopes for March Madness appear to be done, especially if Petty isn’t available. (He will have x-rays back in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday.) The Tide needs one more win before the SEC Tournament to assure at least a .500 record, which in turn should be enough to secure a NIT berth.

What were the biggest concerns?: Alabama has four players listed at 6-foot-9, and all four are eligible to return next season. But you have to wonder if Nate Oats isn’t contemplating wholesale renovations for that part of the roster, which has been a weakness all season and bottomed out in Starkville. Alex Reese is supposed to be the deep threat that stretches out defenses, but he was 1-for-6 beyond the arc and had just five points and a rebound while turning it over four times. Meanwhile Javian Davis and Galin Smith combined to miss all five of their field goal attempts and five of their seven free throws. And none of the three could slow down State’s big men. Reggie Perry collected 21 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks; while Abdul Ado scored all eight of his points in the first half and finished with five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Those two combined for an efficiency score of 47, while Bama’s three bigs who played combined for a 0 score.

What was the best part of the game?: Alabama went a respectable 11-for-32 from 3-point range, but most of the fun was in the opening minutes. The Crimson Tide made eight of its first 12 shots from beyond the arc, with Kira Lewis draining three of them and Petty and Beetle Bolden hitting two apiece. State was actually playing excellent defense along the perimeter, but the ball movement was crisp enough and shooters dialed in enough that it kept Bama afloat despite defensive woes. But Bolden’s legs wore down and with no Petty to worry about, the Bulldogs were eventually able to key in and shut down Alabama’s scoring lifeline.

Who was the star?: Lewis may be in his final weeks at the Capstone, depending on how you read the NBA mock draft tea leaves. But if he is going, he certainly isn’t coasting at the end. Lewis scored 29 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists, and he never turned the ball over in the second half. Even with he and Jaden Shackelford (17 points) the only reliable scoring threats after halftime, State never found a way to completely stop him.

What’s next?: Bama will bring whatever healthy bodies it can muster into a Saturday night meeting with South Carolina at Coleman Coliseum. Tipoff on the SEC Network is at 7:30 p.m. Central.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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