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No. 24 Alabama beats Mississippi State 99-67, maintains top spot in the SEC standings

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Mark Sears scored 21 points and No. 24 Alabama maintained its spot atop the Southeastern Conference standings with a 99-67 win over Mississippi State on Saturday night.

Aaron Estrada scored 15 points and Mouhamed Dioubate and Jarin Stevenson each scored 14 for Alabama (16-6, 8-1). Stevenson, a freshman, showed plenty of improvement, shooting 4 for 6 from long distance after not scoring more than seven points in each of his first eight conference games.

Dioubate added eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks, while Estrada had eight rebounds and three assists.

“We’ve been trying to put 40 minutes on both sides of the ball together, and that’s as close as we’ve come,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said.

Tolu Smith III had 23 points and five rebounds for Mississippi State (14-8, 3-6). Shakeel Moore scored 10 points and Shawn Jones Jr. 10.

The Bulldogs struggled from 3-point range, going 4 for 16, and committed 18 turnovers. Mississippi State had an especially poor first half, shooting 32% and going 0 for 7 from 3-point range. Those struggles allowed Alabama to build a 23-point lead by halftime.

“(Turnovers have) definitely become an Achilles heel for us,” Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said. “We’ve had a couple of games where we’ve kept the number satisfactory, but unfortunately, when things start going off the rails, that’s usually an area that we can point to that has given us problems. And the league is so dynamic and athletic that when you turn that thing over, more often than not when it’s a live ball turnover, it changes the tenor of a game.”

REBOUND IN REBOUNDING

Alabama was dramatically outrebounded by Georgia in narrowly avoiding a loss in its last game, losing that battle 39-26. Alabama answered a call from Oats, outrebounding Mississippi State 48-37.

“I thought we were a little soft at Georgia on rebounds, I think they answered that pretty well,” Oats said.

Alabama was particularly strong on the offensive glass, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds compared to 26 defensive rebounds by Mississippi State.

“Twenty offensive rebounds, we’re not going to win games like that,” Smith said.

BIG PICTURE

Sears strengthened his case for SEC Player of the Year in a heated race with Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht, among others. Sears added four rebounds, three assists and two steals to his 21 points, made all six of his free throws and had a couple of flashy passes.

Sears has scored at least 20 points in all but one of Alabama’s nine SEC games and had multiple steals in six of those nine games.

UP NEXT

Alabama: Travel to Auburn on Wednesday. Alabama beat the Tigers at home on 79-75 on Jan. 24.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs host Georgia, mired in a three-game losing streak, on Wednesday.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball