LEXINGTON, Ky. – Mississippi State nearly erased a 20-point second-half deficit.
However, the comeback wilted in the final minutes as the upset bid was held off at the end by No. 14 Kentucky.
Kentucky nearly blew the lead but hit enough free throws in the final two minutes to close out an 80-74 Southeastern Conference men’s basketball win Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky improved to 13-3 overall and 3-1 in league play, while MSU dropped its third straight to fall to 7-8 and 0-3.
“Our kids really gave a great effort,” MSU head coach Ben Howland said. “We are having a difficult time starting second halves. When you already have a deficit, you can’t come out and give away possessions to start the second half. We fought hard in a difficult place to play. We did a lot of things well on the offensive end.”
Kentucky opened the second half with a 14-2 run to open a 53-33 advantage. Still, the Bulldogs shot 52.9 percent from the floor and overcame 19 turnovers to trail by only 74-71 with 1:15 remaining.
The Wildcats then hit six straight free throws to close out the victory.
“Sometimes, it can be difficult learning how to come back and win a game like this on the road,” Howland said. “We have too many breakdowns at key sequences in the game but we will keep working on that.”
Craig Sword had 20 points before fouling out late in the contest for the Bulldogs. Malik Newman added 14 points and Gavin Ware added 11 points. The Bulldogs were out-rebounded decisively but did have a team-high six boards from Ware. Newman had four assists.
MSU got back-to-back baskets to start the game with a 5-0 lead. Kentucky forced five turnovers during a 23-5 run as the Wildcats climbed on top 23-10.
The Bulldogs followed with nine straight points including a basket from Quinndary Weatherspoon and a trey from Newman. The Bulldogs were within two at 27-25 after a spinning jumper in the lane by Sword.
Kentucky expanded the lead again with a 12-3 run. Newman halted that with a 3-pointer as the half expired to bring the Maroon and White within 39-31.
For a second straight contest, the Bulldogs had a bad stretch of play to start the second half. The Wildcats enjoyed a 14-2 run for a 53-33 lead with 14:26 left.
Still, the Bulldogs kept battling.
A 6-0 run brought the Bulldogs within 53-39. Later, a 9-0 run was capped by a layup by Sword and had the Bulldogs within 65-57 with 6:25 left.
A 7-0 run – highlighted by a Fred Thomas 3-pointer – brought the Bulldogs within 74-71. However, the comeback attempt stalled there.
For the contest, MSU hit 27 of 51 shots from the field (52.9 percent), 6 of 13 shots from 3-point range (46.2 percent) and 14 of 16 shots from the foul line (87.5 percent). Kentucky hit 28 off 55 shots from the field (50.9 percent), 9 of 23 shots from 3-point range (39.1 percent) and 15 of 20 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent).
Kentucky held a 33-20 rebounding advantage. MSU had eight assists and 19 turnovers, while Kentucky had 16 assists and 17 turnovers.
Kentucky received 22 points from Jamal Murray, 21 points from Tyler Ulis and 14 points from Isaiah Briscoe.
MSU returns to the Humphrey Coliseum for a Saturday afternoon conference matchup with Tennessee. The Bulldogs and Volunteers tip at 2:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
(From MSU Media Relations)