The Mississippi State Bulldogs led the No. 1 team in the nation for over 36 minutes, but it was the final 3:36 when the Kentucky depth took over helping the Wildcats escape Starkville with a 73-64 win.
The Bulldogs (19-9, 6-7) opened the contest on a 12-2 run holding the Wildcats (27-1, 13-0) to 1-of-11 shooting in the first 5:56 of the ballgame. The frenzied crowd provided energy for the Bulldogs as they played a dominate first half of basketball.
“I thought that first 20 minutes we were about as good as you could be at both ends,” said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury. “Defensively, we controlled the game and offensively, we were very precise and we kept them off the free-throw line.”
Dee Bost, the point guard of the Bulldogs, was putting on a clinic in the first half with 16 points and perhaps more impressively added six assists to the mix getting his teammates involved.
State carried a 41-28 lead into the locker room marking Kentucky’s largest deficit of the season. However, the Wildcats remained composed and slowly chipped away at the MSU lead. The Bulldogs answered with a bucket or two, but the Wildcats kept cutting into the lead. Finally with 4:04 remaining, the Wildcats took their first lead of the evening at 63-62.
Without Rodney Hood, who suffered an injury to his left knee in the first half, Mississippi State didn’t have the depth to create a substitution pattern or matchup with the UK length. The Wildcats used it to their advantage and simply wore down the Bulldogs.
“It was a huge blow for us, they weren’t going to cancel the game, but when we lose one of our key guys, Rodney Hood, with our lack of depth it is huge for us, absolutely huge,” said Stansbury.
Despite Hood’s absence, the Bulldogs had a chance late in the game when according to Stansbury everything changed.
“There are always plays you can point to and when you play a team like Kentucky everything gets magnified, but there was a play when we were up seven and we foul them on that 3-point shot,” he said. “We had gotten the rebound on that shot, huge play in the game right there.”
Defensively, the Wildcats found an answer for Bost, who had a game high 21 points. Kentucky held Bost to just five points and only one assist by allowing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to guard him.
“He was long and athletic and it kind of bothered me a little bit,” said Bost. “We got the ball where we wanted to, (but) we just didn’t make the same shots we made in the first half.”
At the end of the day, the Bulldogs are disappointed in the loss but Stansbury finds a lot to be proud of in his team.
“I don’t think anybody that witnessed that game wouldn’t say that those guys didn’t play with their heart and their souls and went toe-to-toe under some adverse situations losing one of your guys,” Stansbury said. “I’m awfully proud of that.”
Mississippi State will be back in action on Saturday when it travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide with a 5 p.m. scheduled opening tip.