DULUTH, Ga. - A season of improvement ended on a disappointing note for the Bulldogs Wednesday night.
A difficult night making shots and a difficult night possessing the basketball led to trouble, as Mississippi State dropped a 63-36 decision to Alabama in an opening-round game of the Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament played at the Gwinnett Center.
MSU fell to 13-17 with the setback.
"Well, certainly have to take your hat off to Alabama," MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. "They played awfully well tonight. They 1-3-1 zoned us. Confidence is a fragile thing. I think for us, we got a little shaken with our confidence shooting the ball and got a little hesitant. They obviously took away our inside game, which has been our bread and butter most of the year."
Wednesday's tournament outing looked nothing like the regular season, where MSU recorded a 75-51 win in Starkville. In that contest, Martha Alwal, an SEC All-Defensive team selection and finalist for the Gillom Trophy, and Carnecia Williams combined for 43 points down low. On Wednesday, no MSU player reached double figures and the squad shot 22.6 percent from the field as a team.
"We had a tough shooting night," said guard Darriel Gaynor, the lone MSU senior. "We couldn't get anything to fall. We didn't guard or rebound very well, outside of Kendra (Grant). We didn't make shots and we didn't do a really good job of transition defense. Just a tough one."
Alabama (13-17) took the lead for good with seven straight points to break a 6-6 tie. The Bulldogs battled back to a 15-13 deficit with a 3-point basket from Katia May. The deficit was one at 17-16 after a Kendra Grant 3-point basket.
Alabama followed with another 6-0 run to create some breathing room.
MSU only made 6-of-30 shots from the field in the opening half, including a 3-of-16 performance from 3-point range. Despite the numbers, MSU only trailed 23-17 at halftime.
The Crimson Tide score four straight points to start the second half and quickly ran the lead to double figures. Alabama shot 38.2 percent from the field in the game's final half and did a much better job of taking care of the basketball, only making 13 turnovers for the game.
The Bulldogs trailed 39-26 after a Jerica James layup with 10:27 left in regulation. The Crimson Tide poured it on from there with a 13-3 run allowing them to take complete control.
"For us, it was a horrible shooting night, and we didn't play very good defensively, either," Schaefer said. "We didn't play the way we've been playing most of the year. I think the girls would agree. We had a little hangover (from a win over Georgia) in the first half at Auburn (a 74-65 loss Sunday).
"Tonight, you saw both halves of what we dealt with the first half at Auburn."
For the contest, MSU hit 14 of 62 shots from the field (22.6 percent), 4 of 26 shots from 3-point range (15.4 percent) and 4 of 9 shots from the foul line (44.4 percent). Alabama hit 22 of 64 shots from the field (34.4 percent), 3 of 17 shots from 3-point range (17.6 percent) and 16 of 22 shots from the foul line (72.7 percent).
Alabama held a 48-42 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 10 assists and 20 turnovers, while the Crimson Tide had six assists and 13 turnovers.
Grant had seven points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes for the Bulldogs. Gaynor paced MSU with eight points.
Alwal finished with six points, six rebounds and four blocks. She record 16 double-doubles this season, and her 292 rebounds rate as the fourth-most in MSU single-season history.
The Worthington, Minn., native registered 78 blocks this year, also the fourth-highest mark in program history. In addition to collecting her 500th-career rebound, Alwal also moved 20 blocks behind the MSU's career record with 160 on the year.
Alabama, which plays South Carolina in the tournament's second round Thursday, was led by 17 points from Meghan Perkins and 13 points from Daisha Simmons.
Despite the setback, Schaefer is proud of the strides from his youthful squad. Once 0-6 in league play, MSU finished strong, including an upset win over No. 11 Georgia on Gaynor's Senior Night.
"This team has achieved a great deal this year," Schaefer said. "I know you look at our record and think 13-17. But we had a lot of inexperience, a lot of youth and a lot of immaturity. One senior in Darriel, and nine out of 11 kids that had never really played college basketball. Every time we tipped it up this year, we started three starters that haven't played a lot in Division I.
"I'm probably as proud as any coach in the country in this team and what they've accomplished."