Alabama basketball gets bullied on the boards, falls at Mississippi State in James Rojas' return

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Alabama men's basketball is running out of time to gain its footing. 

The No. 25 Crimson Tide has a couple weeks until it reaches perhaps its most difficult stretch of the season in late January and early February, but it needs to get things figured out quickly. 

Three games now the Crimson Tide has lost in a row. Two have been against unranked teams. Four of the last six games have been losses for Alabama. 

The latest edition was a back-and-forth game with Mississippi State in which Alabama couldn't find a way to close in the end. The Bulldogs defeated the Crimson Tide 78-76 on Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum. 

Here are observations and takeaways from the matchup between Alabama (11-6, 2-3 SEC) and Mississippi State (12-5, 3-2).

Welcome back, James Rojas

For the first time this season, James Rojas checked into a game. 

The senior forward tore his ACL during a practice in June, which prompted surgery that kept him off the court. That changed Saturday. 

With 6:34 left in the first half, Rojas entered the game. The Alabama student section met his debut with chants of "RO-JAS, RO-JAS, RO-JAS." 

He quickly made an impact. Wearing a brace on his left knee, Rojas grabbed a rebound during his first minute of action. He checked back out of the game after only about a minute, but he was far from done for the day. 

Rojas returned later in the first half and continued to bring an intensity and willingness to battle that the rest of the Crimson Tide could feed off. With about 90 seconds left in the first half, Rojas intercepted a Mississippi State pass, drew a foul, then hit both free throws. 

Once again, more chants of "RO-JAS, RO-JAS, RO-JAS" broke out among the Crimson Tide fans. 

This scrappiness and grit was needed in the back-and-forth game. Especially when Noah Gurley got in foul trouble, picking up his fourth in the first minute of the second half. 

Then, Rojas entered the game again and he hit a corner 3-pointer to give Alabama a 44-39 lead early in the second half. He finished the game with six points and two rebounds. 

Jan 15, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide forward James Rojas (33) and Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Garrison Brooks (10) battle for the ball during the first half at Humphrey Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Crimson Tide continues struggles shooting from deep

Alabama just can't seem to get hot from beyond the arc on a consistent basis. 

The Crimson Tide didn't do anything to help its poor 3-point field goal percentage of 32.06% entering the game, which ranked 248th in the country. 

Alabama hits a three here and there, but nothing near consistency. 

At halftime, Alabama was 3-for-15 from deep. Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, Keon Ellis and JD Davison combined for 2 of 11 attempts. 

The Crimson Tide scored a few threes late to stay with the Bulldogs in the final minute, but it was too little too late. 

Alabama finished 8-for-29 from deep. Ellis was Alabama's best 3-point shooter as he hit 3 of 6. 

Bulldogs win rebound battle 

Much of the Bulldogs' success stemmed from their ability to grab rebounds. They out-rebounded the Crimson Tide 43-32, and 25 of those came on the defensive end for Mississippi State. 

Garrison Brooks led the Bulldogs with 10 boards. Keon Ellis had the most of any Alabama player with seven. 

Iverson Molinar a force for the Bulldogs

Coming off a career-high 28 points in Mississippi State's last game, Molinar gave the Crimson Tide some problems. 

As the Bulldogs fought to stay with the Crimson Tide, Molinar was usually right there, contributing. At one point, he hit the 3-pointer to tie the game at 51, then gave the Bulldogs the lead back with a layup. 

Molinar led all scorers with 24 points. He also had six rebounds and four assists. 

Crimson Tide gets in foul trouble

Alabama coach Nate Oats had to get creative with how he handled his lineup as the game progressed. Several of his players got in foul trouble, and quick. 

Noah Gurley, who started against the Bulldogs, fouled out at the 7:17 mark. Rojas was one of the players who helped fill in, but even Rojas picked up his fair share of fouls. He and Juwan Gary had each picked up three not even five minutes into the second half. 

Then Gary picked up his fourth foul with 3:18 remaining in the game. 

Mississippi State's Tolu Smith also fouled out of the game. 

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Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly