TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The game didn’t look so easy for Alabama all of a sudden.
The 3-pointers weren’t falling and the second-ranked Crimson Tide fell behind by double digits instead of building a commanding lead.
The end result was the same: a ’Bama victory, albeit a down-to-the-wire 66-63 game against slumping Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
The Crimson Tide (18-2, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) had to climb out of a 10-point hole in the second half and then hold on two days after reaching the program’s highest ranking since rising to No. 1 in the 2002-03 season. The result was a ninth straight win and the first real scare during that stretch.
“We didn’t start the game like we needed to but I give our guys a lot of credit,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “In the second half, they found a way to get a win in a tight game.
“We haven’t had very many tight games, so it’s not the worst. We had to figure out how to win a close game, especially when you’re down.”
The Bulldogs (12-8, 1-7) had one last chance to tie but Noah Gurley blocked Shakeel Moore’s 3-point attempt in the final seconds. They had also had two potential tying shots at the end of a 61-59 loss to Florida over the weekend and have now dropped five straight.
Jahvon Quinerly scored nine of his 14 points in the second half and had four assists for the Tide, which made just 5 of 28 3-pointers (18%). Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney both scored 13, and Clowney had eight rebounds.
Clowney made two free throws and Quinerly went 1 of 2 in the final 2:15.
Tolu Smith led Mississippi State with 15 points and seven rebounds. Dashawn Davis added 14.
Mississippi State coach Chris Jans called the loss “hard to swallow.”
“Obviously, we had control for the majority of the game,” Hans said. “They overtook us and I like how we responded.
“Just disappointed. We had an opportunity to get a big win for this team and this program against a team that is having a great season.”
It was Alabama’s first home game since the Jan. 15 arrest of reserve forward Darius Miles on a capital murder charge.
The Tide trailed by as many as 11 in the first half. Alabama didn’t take its first lead until going up 48-46 on Rylan Griffen’s 3-pointer with 9:19 left. It came after Miller took a charge on the other end.
The Bulldogs’ Davis was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three foul shots for a team that started 1 of 5 from the line.
“If you’re going to win an SEC championship, you’ve got to win some games that you don’t play your best and that you figure out a way to win a game,” Oats said. “Really our defense in the second half, I think, was what did it.”
Mississippi State: Flirted with beating its highest ranked opponent since upending No. 1 Kentucky in the 1996 SEC tournament, 84-73. Instead, the Bulldogs have lost nine straight against Top 25 teams since beating No. 24 Alabama last season.
Alabama: The Tide finally cooled off a bit after becoming just the third team in the last 50 years to win its first seven SEC games by double digits, but found a way to win. Making 19 of 22 free throws (86%) certainly helped.
Alabama junior college transfer Nick Pringle made both of his shots in the game and scored seven points. He’s now 19 of 20 (95%) on the season.
UP NEXT Mississippi State hosts No. 11 TCU on Saturday in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
Alabama visits Oklahoma on Saturday in another SEC-Big 12 matchup.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25