By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Braxton Key rediscovered his shooting touch at the right time for Alabama.
Key scored 16 points in his best game of the season and Dazon Ingram made two free throws with 21 seconds left to lift Alabama to a 68-62 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday night.
The Crimson Tide (13-6, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) squandered a 19-point halftime lead before holding on against the Bulldogs (14-5, 2-4). Alabama won its fourth straight game and second in a row without leading scorer Collin Sexton, who remained out with an abdominal injury.
Key, last year’s leading scorer, helped pick up the slack after he hadn’t scored in double digits since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the first 10 games.
“Braxton Key came alive for us, his best game since he’s been back,” Tide coach Avery Johnson said. “We desperately needed it tonight because they were going to try to limit the production of some of our other wing players.”
Quinndary Weatherspoon made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 60-60 with 1:38 left. Then Key scored on a put back for the Tide and John Petty hit a jump shot.
Aric Holman dunked off an offensive rebound to make it 64-62 with 22 seconds left. Key’s second attempt at an inbounds pass went across midcourt to Ingram, who was fouled by Lamar Peters in a battle for the ball.
Nick Weatherspoon missed a quick 3-pointer at the other end and Herbert Jones headed to an uncontested dunk to punctuate the Alabama win after an aborted comeback.
“Obviously we had a very poor start to the game and they jumped on us quickly,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “We came out where they were the aggressors and we were on our heels. I thought we turned that around in the second half with our comeback.”
Daniel Giddens scored a career-high 13 points for Alabama on 5-of-7 shooting. John Petty had nine points on 3-of-11 shooting after hitting eight 3-pointers in Wednesday night’s upset of No. 17 Auburn. He also had four assists.
Key had five rebounds, four assists and three steals. He came in 1 of 15 from 3-point range this season but hit a pair in this game. His response when the first went in: “Finally.”
Even a team manager had been daily trying to fire him up by giving Key grief about his low shooting percentage.
“It’s just good to see one finally go through,” Key said. “It just builds confidence.”
Peters led Mississippi State with 17 points, including three straight 3-pointers in a 70-second span. He followed that up with a layup to help the Bulldogs wipe out the big deficit.
“I was able to get hot at the right moment and that’s what we needed,” Peters said. “And it was able to bring us back and give us a chance to win the game.”
Weatherspoon had 12 points and nine rebounds. Aric Holman added 11 points and 10 boards while Abdul Ado also scored 11.
Mississippi St: Has lost 11 in a row on the road dating back to last season. Has dropped four of its last five games. Made 21 of 56 shots (37.5 percent) but hit five second-half 3-pointers.
Alabama: Made just 9 of 29 shots in the second half (31 percent). Has won eight of the last nine meetings, including the last four. Had 16 assists, 12 in the first half.
Johnson said Sexton, whose 19.3 points per game ranks second in the SEC, is inching closer to a return but wasn’t close to playing in this one. “On a scale of 1 to 10 when the abdominal injury happened, if he was a zero, today he probably was a 5-1/2,” Johnson said.
Mississippi St. visits No. 18 Kentucky on Tuesday night.
Alabama visits Mississippi on Tuesday night, the Tide’s only road contest during this five-game stretch.
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