Mark Sears carries Alabama past Miss. State, 82-74

Southeastern Conference leading scorer Mark Sears netted 22 points and scored nine of Alabama’s final 11 points as the Crimson Tide beat host Mississippi State 82-74 on Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.

With Alabama (11-5, 3-0 SEC) up 76-74 with 34.1 seconds left, Cameron Matthews (12 points) missed two free throws and failed to tie the game for the Bulldogs (12-4, 1-2).

Sears canned two free throws and added two more, finishing the night 8-for-8 at the line, as Alabama won its fifth straight against the Bulldogs and for the eighth time in the past nine games.

Latrell Wrightsell Jr. scored 19 points and Rylan Griffen had 17 and six rebounds. Grant Nelson produced nine points, nine rebounds, three blocks and three steals for Alabama.

The Crimson Tide won the game at the foul line, canning 22 of 26 attempts (84.6 percent), while the Bulldogs slumped at 55.6 percent (15-for-27).

Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith had 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Josh Hubbard potted 14 points while Shakeel Moore had 13. D.J. Jeffries totaled nine points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

After stunning No. 5 Tennessee on Wednesday, the Bulldogs carried that momentum over to a strong start, opening a 15-6 lead in the first 5:37 of play behind five points from Hubbard and four each from Smith and Matthews.

However, the visitors shook off the start and made a stout push to overtake the Bulldogs with a 15-6 run, leading 23-21 on Wrightsell’s trey with 8:10 left.

Alabama led most of the half’s remainder, but Moore’s jumper with three seconds left cut the Bulldogs’ halftime deficit to 40-38.

Mississippi State shot better in the half, clicking on 15 of 28 shots (53.6 percent), while Alabama made 12 of 28 (42.9 percent).

But the Crimson Tide held a 13-2 advantage in points off turnovers to cling to the two-point lead, despite being outscored 20-12 in the paint.

In the second half, Alabama gradually built its lead to 10 points, 59-49, after Sears knocked down two free throws at 12:40.

The Bulldogs tightened the game to 67-66 on two from the stripe by Smith, setting up a close game with 5:43 remaining.