STARKVILLE, Miss. _ In terms of confidence boosts, this may have been a huge one.
After failing to post a single non-conference road win this season, the University of Alabama men's basketball team broke through in a big way Saturday, taking advantage of struggling Mississippi State for a lopsided 75-57 victory at Humphrey Coliseum.
Led by true freshman guard Trevor Releford's 17 points and junior forward JaMychal Green's 16 points and 11 rebounds, Alabama dominated the second half after being ahead by just one point at the break.
"Obviously we're excited with the win," Coach Anthony Grant said. "I thought we came out and played to our identity. I thought the defense was where it started."
The stretch that put Alabama over the hump came at the start of the second half when the Tide switched from a zone to man coverage and also found an unlikely offensive spark.
Specifically, Green, who only had just two points at intermission, stepped back and started draining jump shots that seemed to catch the Bulldogs by surprise and put them on their heels. Combined with Releford's penetrating ("They starting backing up on me at first and I started attacking and using my speed against their big men," he said) the Crismon Tide went on a 22-7 stretch and never looked back.
"I think that's where our team has grown," Grant said. "The non-conference season we obviously had a lot of adversity that hit us in terms of the competition, we played a very, very tough non-conference schedule had some tough losses away from home."
Although Alabama had some foul trouble, with both starting guards and sophomore forward Tony Mitchell all having three early in the second half, no one fouled out. Just as notable was that the Crimson Tide made only one 3-pointer (eight attempts), while MSU launched 24, making five, and never got into a rhythm.
MSU shot just 34.4 percent from the field in the first half, which Alabama nearly matched (36.7), and 33.9 overall. The Tide had nine steals, a 15-11 edge in turnovers and finished with a major scoring advantage in the paint, 44-24.
In his first game of the season due to a suspension, junior point guard Dee Bost led the Bulldogs with 14 points and five assists, but not even his return could spark the dysfunctional Bulldogs (8-7, 0-1).
Although guard Ravern Johnson came into the week leading the SEC in scoring, averaging 20.1 points, his recent cold streak reached freezing levels as he made just 3 of 16 shots, including 2 of 10 from 3-point range, and finished with eight points.
McDonald's All-American Renardo Sidney, fresh off another suspension due to getting in a fight with co-captain Elgin Bailey (who has since left the team), finished with just two points with his coach saying that conditioning was obviously a problem. Those three players combined made just 9 of 40 shots.
"I liked where we were, being down a point at halftime," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. "Honestly, I didn't think we couldn't have played any worse. Then the second half proved me wrong.
"We are in a hole but all we can do is keep digging."
Sidney played just 26 minutes and was off-limits to reporters after the game, but Green said he could he tell he was tiring.
"That's a big body," Green said. "Banging on him, I'm going to lose that battle.