TUSCALOOSA _ The difference may have been best demonstrated by their confidence.
Whereas a couple of months ago the University of Alabama men's basketball players used to think that maybe they could pull games out like this, now not only do they know it but expect it.
Wednesday night's rematch with Mississippi State at Coleman Coliseum was never closer than nine points in the second half, as the Crimson Tide recorded its first sweep in the rivalry since 2004-05 with a convincing 75-61 victory.
"We wanted to be aggressive," Coach Anthony Grant after his team never trailed while posting its ninth win in 10 games and remained undefeated at home (12-0).
Consequently, the SEC West is clearly now Alabama's to lose. At 6-1, 14-7 overall, only Arkansas is within striking distance at 4-4, and the Crimson Tide is a game ahead of Florida in the overall standings.
"Give Alabama credit, they did the things and made the plays that they needed to make to win a basketball game," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. "They're playing awfully well here and that's why they're sitting where they are in the league.
"I never thought we got going."
With junior guard Dee Bost looking much more comfortable than a month ago, when he was playing his first game of the season, Alabama went right at Renardo Sidney. The big forward picked up two fouls in the opening 80 seconds and sat the rest of the half when Alabama had a 19-6 scoring advantage in the paint (35-22 for the game) and grabbed eight of 12 offensive rebounds for an overall 39-25 edge.
"When he went out it took a little away from their rebounding, but we went with the same game plan," senior guard Charvez Davis said.
Only the real story of the first half was ball-handling. While the Bulldogs (11-10, 3-4 SEC) gave up 12 turnovers, the Crimson Tide grabbed seven of its nine steals and notched eight of 12 assists.
"I thought the first half our defense was very, very good," Grant said.
While sophomore forward Tony Mitchell led all scorers with 23 points and junior forward JaMychal Green had his 18th double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, the Bulldogs were really done in by Alabama starting backcourt of freshman Trevor Releford and Davis.
While Davis hit five 3-pointers, including a buzzer-beater at the half, Releford had 16 points, a career-high eight assists and four steals. He also may have had the basket of the night when while driving the lane faked a pass only to swing the ball down low and underhand the picturesque layup.
"Even as big as what he did offensively is what he did defensively," Grant said. "To have to guard a guy the caliber of Dee Bost, and what he's capable of doing, and then be able to run the team, handle the ball and make decisions on the other end, those things combined it was a very, very impressive night for him."
Bost eventually finished with 18 points, thanks to three 3-pointers, and with MSU having just two turnovers in the second half it was able to stick around but could only cut an 18-point deficit in half.
"Wasn't as bad as last time," Stansbury said, referring to the 75-57 game at Humphrey Coliseum on Jan. 8. "Guess it's better."
With MSU playing more zone than that previous meeting, Alabama was able to use its starters longer, with Mitchell playing 39 minutes, Davis 39 and Releford 35. Consequently, sophomore Andrew Steele had the only bench points with two.
But then again, with Releford and Davis both playing well and making 6 of 12 shots, it was their night to shine.
"He stepped up today like a better player should do and he is starting to show signs of a veteran," Mitchell said about Releford.