STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State surrendered a 15-point lead Sunday afternoon as the Bulldogs dropped a 59-57 decision to Alabama A&M in a men's basketball game played at Humphrey Coliseum.
Playing for the first time since Christmas break, the Bulldogs fell
to 4-7 overall and 3-1 at home. Not even a return to the lineup by
junior guard Jalen Steele could provide enough of a lift for the Maroon and White.
Steele played 27 minutes in his first action since fracturing a wrist on Nov. 13 against Florida Atlantic. Steele hit his first two shots from the field and finished with 10 points.
"Obviously, it is a disappointing loss because it is a home loss," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "You want to protect your home court. You need to win your games at home. We had been good at home this year."
MSU (4-7) built the early lead by dominating inside. Reigning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week Gavin Ware went to work early as the Maroon and White built a quick 14-3 advantage.
Steele checked in with 17:09 left in the first half. His back-to-back 3-pointers ran the lead to 20-8. A Ware dunk followed, running the advantage to 14 points.
"It felt really good to be out there again," Steele said. "Seeing the first shot go down was really good, too. In the second half, we made some turnovers and let them get back in the game. So, it's a disappointing day but I enjoyed being back out there."
Another basket by Steele ran the MSU lead to a game-best 15 points - at 27-12 with 5:58 left in the half. Alabama A&M (4-7) took advantage of an MSU letdown late in the half, to close within 33-25 at halftime.
"Sometimes, you get to where you are scoreboard watching," Ray said.
"I don't necessarily think that is because it is a young basketball
team. That is how college basketball teams sometimes are in general. We
quit doing the things that got us the lead."
MSU went better than seven minutes without scoring to start the second half. Alabama A&M took advantage, reeling off 10 straight points to grab a 35-33 advantage.
"We lost our focus," Ware said. "We didn't defend as well, and that let them get back into the game. Once they started scoring some baskets, they got hot."
The contest remained tight the rest of the way. MSU grabbed a 43-39 lead on a Ware putback with 10:04 left. The lead was again four at 47-43 and later five at 57-52 with 2:18 remaining, after a jumper by Craig Sword.
Alabama A&M forced back-to-back turnovers and scored the game's next six points. An attempt at go-ahead points by Steele was blocked by Demarquelle Tabb with 16 seconds left in regulation. Alabama A&M forced one more turnover to close out the win.
For the contest, MSU hit 20 of 56 shots from the field (35.7 percent), 4 of 15 shots from 3-point range (26.7 percent) and 13 of 17 shots from the foul line (76.5 percent). Alabama A&M hit 24 of 57 shots from the field (42.1 percent), 5 of 16 shots from 3-point range (31.3 percent) and 6 of 8 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent).
Alabama A&M held a 37-35 rebounding advantage. MSU had eight assists and a season-low 11 turnovers, while Alabama A&M had 10 assists and 13 turnovers.
Ware posted his second straight double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Sword finished with a team-high 14 points.
Alabama A&M received 14 points apiece from Jeremy Crutcher and Tabb. Brandon Ellis added 13 points.
MSU hosts New Orleans at 6 p.m. Thursday. That contest will be televised regionally by Comcast Sports Southeast.