By JOHN ZENOR
AP sports writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – The game suddenly didn’t look so easy for Alabama.
The 3-pointers didn’t fall and second-place Crimson Tide fell double digits instead of building a commanding lead.
The end result was the same: a ‘Bama win, albeit a narrow 66-63 game against collapsing Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
The Crimson Tide (18-2, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) had to climb out of a 10-point hole in the second half and then hold for two days after reaching the program’s highest rank since rising to No. 1 in 2002 would have. Season 03. The result was a ninth win in a row and the first real shock at this track.
“We didn’t start the game like we should have, but I give our boys a lot of credit,” said Alabama coach Nate Oats. “They found a way to win in a tight game in the second half.
“We haven’t had many close games so it’s not the worst. We had to figure out how to win a tight game, especially when you’re down.”
The Bulldogs (12-8, 1-7) had one last chance to level, but Noah Gurley blocked Shakeel Moore’s 3-point attempt in the final seconds. They also had two potential ties at the end of a 61-59 loss to Florida over the weekend and have now lost five in a row.
Jahvon Quinerly scored nine of his 14 second-half points and had four assists for The Tide, making just 5 of 28 3-pointers (18%). Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney both had 13 points and Clowney had eight rebounds.
Clowney made two free throws and Quinerly went 1 of 2 in the final 2:15.
Tolu Smith led Mississippi State with 15 points and seven rebounds. Dashown Davis added 14.
Mississippi State coach Chris Jans called the loss “hard to stomach.”
“Of course we had most of the game under control,” said Hans. “They passed us and I like how we reacted.
“Just disappointed. We had the opportunity to get a big win for this team and this program against a team that is having a great season.”
It was Alabama’s first home game since reserve forward Darius Miles was arrested on Jan. 15 for capital murder.
The Tide was trailing by as much as 11 in the first half. Alabama didn’t take its first lead until going 48-46 to Rylan Griffen’s 3-pointer left at 9:19. It came after Miller took a load on the other end.
Davis of the Bulldogs was fouled on a 3-point try and took all three foul shots for a team that started 1 of 5 from the line.
“If you want to win an SEC championship, you have to win some games where you’re not doing your best and you have to find a way to win a game,” Oats said. “Really our defense in the second half I think was what it did.”
State of Mississippi: Flirted with beating his highest-ranked opponent since beating No. 1 Kentucky 84-73 in the 1996 SEC tournament. Instead, the Bulldogs have lost to top-25 teams nine straight times since beating No. 24 Alabama last season.
Alabama: The Tide finally cooled a bit after becoming only the third team in the last 50 years to win their first seven SEC games by double digits but found a way to win. Getting 19 out of 22 free throws (86%) certainly helped.
Alabama junior college transfer Nick Pringle made both shots in the game and scored seven points. He is now 19 of 20 (95%) in the season.
UP NEXT The state of Mississippi hosts TCU No. 11 in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Saturday.
Alabama visits Oklahoma in another SEC Big 12 matchup on Saturday.
AP College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25