STARKVILLE — Pushing No. 6 Alabama to the brink, Mississippi State turned to its two seniors on senior night in the most crucial moments, hoping for a storybook ending.
Although both Abdul Ado and Jalen Johnson made pivotal plays throughout Saturday’s 64-59 loss to the Crimson Tide Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum, if either tells the story of their senior day years from now, they probably won’t lead with the final few minutes of regulation.
Trailing by three points, the final few minutes saw Ado, a 6-foot-11 center, take an unorthodox mid-range shot that wasn’t even close to falling because of a broken possession, and Johnson, who has largely been a role player most of the year, taking consecutive would-be game-tying 3-point shots. Both long range shots found nothing but iron. The first attempt was an open look in the corner that didn’t fall, but the second was an ill-advised, rushed shot with 1:10 remaining.
“We had two chances and we didn’t capitalize on it,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said.
Down the stretch offensive execution wasn’t the only derailment for MSU. The Bulldogs were an abysmal 1-of-12 from beyond the arc and 10-of-17 from the free throw line. And despite shooting 52 percent in the second half, the Bulldogs’ first-half offensive performance was brutal. MSU turned in a 28 percent shooting clip when it entered the break trailing Alabama by 13 points.
“It’s not often you lose when you hold a team to 32 percent from the field,” Howland said. “… You have to shoot the ball better than we did today.”
In what likely will be his final contest ever at Humphrey Coliseum, Ado made his 122nd career start at MSU, which ties Dee Bost for the most starts in an MSU career. Ado, who came into Saturday’s matchup third all-time in MSU history with 226 career blocks, scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds. Ado could conceivably return if he chooses because of the extra year of eligibility granted to all winter sport athletes by the NCAA.
Meanwhile, Johnson has carved out a far less decorated MSU career, joining the team this offseason after transferring from Louisiana. Inconsistent play by Johnson has resulted in his role with the team fluctuating throughout the year, going from sixth-man, to starter, back to the bench, to recently seeing talented freshman Derek Fountain eat up the minutes that were previously going to Johnson. But he turned in 20 minutes Saturday, as Howland was determined to let his second senior crack the starting lineup for what potentially could be one last time.
“I thought it was the right thing to do.” Howland said of starting Johnson, who finished with seven points. “He responded and did some good things for us today. He played his heart out.”
With the win, Alabama (19-6, 14-2 SEC) clinches the regular season Southeastern Conference title, its eighth time doing so in program history and its first since 2002. The Crimson Tide also sweep the season series after beating MSU 81-73 on Jan. 23 in Tuscaloosa in addition to halting a streak in the series where the home team had won the previous eight contests.
Tolu Smith was MSU’s biggest offensive weapon after picking up his seventh double-double of the year with 12 points and 13 rebounds. D.J. Stewart had a team-high 15 points but was 4-of-12 from the floor. Starting point guard Iverson Molinar had a similar outing, scoring 11 points but only converting 5 of 15 shots.
Jahvon Quinerly had a game-high 19 points for Alabama, which shot 32 percent from the floor but converted 7-of-28 3-pointers.
MSU (13-12, 7-9) closes the season with two road contests, the first coming against Texas A&M Wednesday.
“We’re not going to give up,” Smith said. “We’re never going to give up.”