TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Timmy Bowers had the swagger, Lawrence Roberts the muscle and No. 5 Mississippi State the poise and pluck.
Bowers hit last-second baskets in regulation and overtime and the Bulldogs clinched their first outright Southeastern Conference title in 41 years with an 82-81 victory over Alabama on Saturday.
Mississippi State (25-2, 14-2) capped its best regular-season ever with an eloquent statement for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Afterward, coach Rick Stansbury stated his team’s case, saying his team has done everything that selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby has said matters.
“There will not be a resume put in front of (Bowlsby) that’s better than Mississippi State when you look at the criteria they’re talking about,” Stansbury said. “What else can you do?”
For Bowers, not much.
The gutsy senior guard made a layup in traffic with a second left in overtime, capping his team’s momentous season in high style. He also made a last-second shot over Earnest Shelton from the free-throw line with 1.2 seconds remaining in regulation.
“Late in the game, obviously I want the ball,” said Bowers, who had only three points at halftime but finished with 20. “I just have that total confidence that I can make the bucket any time I want to. I think it comes with experience.”
The Crimson Tide, which led by 18 points early in the second half, had a couple of chances in overtime. Jermareo Davidson rebounded a missed shot by Kennedy Winston but Antoine Pettway stepped on the baseline for a turnover to give Mississippi State the ball back with 19 seconds left.
After a timeout, Gary Erwin caught the inbounds pass and dished it to Bowers. The senior guard drove the left baseline for the game-winner just when it appeared he might not get a shot off in time.
“He tried to make one move, and I cut him off,” Alabama’s Kennedy Winston said. “He made another and I cut him off. He tried to pump fake and I tried to hold my hands up and keep from fouling.
“He put it up and laid it off the glass. I knew he wasn’t going to pass.”
With the win, Mississippi State set school regular-season records for overall and league wins, finishing 12-0 on the road. Alabama (16-11, 8-8) had won the first meeting, 77-73, a few weeks ago to start a four-game winning streak that will likely catapult the Tide into the NCAA tournament.
Bowers and the Bulldogs kept that from being a lock and made sure the Tide wouldn’t get a first-round bye in the SEC tournament, dropping Alabama to the No. 3 seed.
Bowers also hit a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left in regulation, then Shelton missed his first free throw in a 1-and-1 situation after the official asked for the ball back the first time he prepared to shoot.
“He gave me the ball to shoot it and as I began to shoot it he stopped me,” Shelton said. “I kind of told him, ‘You shouldn’t be able to do that. You can’t throw anybody off like that.”’
“In my opinion that’s a violation,” Tide coach Mark Gottfried said. “I think it does affect your concentration. I don’t think you can blame it (the miss) on that, but it was kind of a unique play.”
Bowers made only 8-of-22 shots but also eight assists. Roberts had 18 points and 21 rebounds, 11 on the offensive end.
Roberts, the favorite for SEC player of the year, didn’t hit a field goal after the 16-minute mark of the second half but the Bulldogs started to hit their 3-pointers. They made 11-of-27 3s, seven after halftime.
Stansbury savored the title regardless of its historic aspect.
“I know everybody talks about, we haven’t done it since the ’60s. Forty years is not something that’s really important to me,” he said.
“Just winning the SEC championship—I don’t care if you’ve done it last year, it’d be special to do it again.”
For Alabama, Shelton had 25 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals. Pettway had 21 point and Winston added 15.
Alabama had no answer for Roberts & Co. inside, getting outrebounded 56-36 and giving up 29 offensive boards.
The Tide’s first basket of the second half pushed the lead to 18 points. The Bulldogs kept pecking away at the lead, then caught up with a 19-3 run to make it 67-all with 3:09 left.
“They just made tough shots,” Shelton said. “They inched back and inched back and before knew it we had a game.”
It was a mirror-image of the Tide’s game Wednesday night, storming back from a 22-point deficit before pulling out an overtime victory.