TUSCALOOSA | The Alabama football team had a parade. The Crimson Tide basketball team looked like it would have a walk in the park.
Things didn’t happen quite that way.
Coach Avery Johnson’s team built a 20-point lead over visiting Mississippi State in the first half, only to see that margin disappear entirely. But a gritty performance down the stretch, including four Dazon Ingram free throws on a pair of critical one-and-one opportunities in the final 90 seconds lifted the Crimson Tide (13-6, 5-2 SEC) to a 68-62 victory, their fourth consecutive win.
Alabama, playing without freshman guard Collin Sexton (abdominal injury) for a second straight game, also benefited from a return to form by sophomore forward Braxton Key. In his ninth game back after preseason knee surgery, Key has his best game of the year, scoring 16 points, his first double-figure effort of the season. He also scored the game’s biggest basket, a putback of a John Petty miss with 1:17 remaining, snapping a 60-60 tie and giving Alabama a lead it never again relinquished.
“The coach has been challenging me to get more offensive rebounds,” Key said. “Nobody boxed me out and I just saw an opportunity to get a basket for my team.”
“Braxton Key came alive tonight and we desperately needed it,” Johnson said.
“I’m not going to go home and buy all my family some presents, but we’ll take it.”
For a second straight game, Alabama got off to a fast start, building a 13-3 lead before the first media timeout and pushing that edge to as many as 20 points late in the first half.
“They jumped on us early and that hurt us,” said Mississippi State coach Ben Howland. “In the second half, our defense was better and Lamar Peters gave us some firepower (including three 3-pointers that powered a 22-5 run by MSU that pulled the Bulldogs even 54-54 with 6:50 to play.
MSU was still down by two with 22 seconds remaining but Ingram’s free throw and a dunk by Herbert Jones capped the win.
Peters led all scorers with 17 points. Key’s 16 points led Alabama, which also got a 13-point effort from Daniel Giddens.
Johnson said that Sexton, the team’s leading scorer on the season, was “not closer to ready” to return from his abdominal injury.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.