STARKVILLE, Miss. — Collin Sexton surveyed his surroundings. One minute earlier, Lamar Peters — the Mississippi State player guarding him — exited the game with an injured ankle, one so painful he required assistance to make it to the locker room.
Thirteen seconds elapsed from the 35-second shot clock. Sexton’s Alabama team trailed by three with 1:48 remaining. The superstar freshman so renowned for his bullish drives to the basket did not push it, even with Peters’ injury.
Sexton spotted up and misfired on a 3-pointer — a common sight for the Crimson Tide during its 67-63 loss on this chilly evening in Starkville at Humphrey Coliseum.
“We just can't take the easy way out,” Tide coach Avery Johnson said. “It's something we have to work on."
Nineteen others did, too, on a miserable shooting evening where Alabama refused to seize advantage of Mississippi State’s foul trouble. In a road conference game, Alabama attempted 30 free throws — making 24 — and lost.
The Crimson Tide entered the bonus with 12:39 to go in the game. Still, it seemed hellbent on predicating its offense around jumpshots instead of penetrating the lane.
After Sexton’s misfire with less than two minutes left, Alabama possessed the ball again down just four. Again, it settled for a 3-pointer, this time by Braxton Key.
Again, it missed.
"I just have to do a better job of communicating the message,” said Avery Johnson, who did not allow players to speak with reporters after the game.
“We just didn't have that extra bounce, that type of energy or resiliency to keep putting pressure on the defense (when we were in the bonus). And then, if you put pressure on the defense, you'll get those really wide, wide open 3s.
On this night, even those could have been a challenge.
In total, Alabama shot 3-of-22 from 3-point territory, including a 3-for-15 effort in the second half. One was a desperate heave from Avery Johnson Jr. with eight seconds remaining and his team facing a six-point deficit.
The Crimson Tide missed 12 of its final 16 field goal attempts in a game pitting two of the conference’s premier defensive teams against one another. Entering Tuesday, neither allowed opponents to score more than 70 points a game. In conference games, Alabama permitted just 65.6.
Such a showdown yielded predictable results.
Alabama made 18 field goals, part of a miserable 36 percent night. Sexton and Key made nine of them. Sexton led the team with 18 points and Key chipped in 11.
Forward Daniel Giddens scored eight of his 11 points within the first six minutes of the second half.
Giddens finished 4-of-5 from the field — Alabama’s most efficient offensive player — but played just 15 minutes while saddled with foul trouble. He committed his fifth foul with 6:25 remaining and the game tied 51-51.
Nursing an injured right wrist he fractured Jan. 9, one he labeled “85 to 90 percent” during a Monday meeting with reporters, Tide forward Donta Hall exited the court with 42 seconds remaining in the first half after a grisly fall while going up for a baseline layup. He obviously favored the wrist.
Though he returned in the second half, he offered the Tide just 25 total minutes, taking three shots and making four free throws. He did tie with Herbert Jones for a team-leading six rebounds.
“Establishing Daniel offensively was a good thing for us in the second half,” Johnson said. “During that stretch, we needed him on the floor, Donta kind of banged his wrist. We had to take him out for a minute and Daniel was our only option at the time. Unfortunately he just fouled out."
Alabama did not make a 3-pointer until Key splashed one with 16:05 to go in the second half. John Petty hit one with 5:05 remaining, too, giving his team a 54-53 lead.
On his next trip up the floor, Petty stopped and launched from Mississippi State’s midcourt logo — one of those patented “heat checks” he chuckles so often about.
It drew nothing but air. Nick Weatherspoon corralled it, finished an uncontested run-out layup for two of his team-high 18 points, and gave Mississippi State a lead it did not relinquish.
"Sometimes the easiest thing to do is launch a 3,” Johnson said. “And that's a teachable moment for us to learn from.”