By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State lost its Swat but not its swagger, but the Bulldogs couldn’t close the deal against Kentucky, giving up a seven-point lead in the final minutes of regulation.
The No. 2-ranked Wildcats won 81-75 in overtime Tuesday night before a Humphrey Coliseum record crowd of 10,788.
The Bulldogs played the last 5 minutes, 8 seconds and the overtime without the SEC’s No. 1 shot blocker, Jarvis “Swat” Varnado, who picked up three quick fouls in the second half and was a non-factor afterward.
The Bulldogs played the entire game without sharp shooter Ravern Johnson, their leading scorer. His absence was not explained prior to tipoff.
“It was an unbelievable effort by our kids. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Kentucky finds ways to be 25-1. That’s why they’re Kentucky. I’m disappointed with all my heart but at the same time very proud.”
MSU point guard Dee Bost hit two free throws to give the Bulldogs (18-8, 6-5 SEC) a 67-60 lead with 3 minutes left, but Kentucky (25-1, 10-1) scored regulation’s last seven points. The Bulldogs didn’t score again until Bost hit a 3-pointer from the wing with 3:33 left in overtime to make it 70-70.
But the Wildcats outscored State 14-8 in the extra period. Almost every possession went through or culminated with freshman center DeMarcus Cousins, who finished with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting and 14 rebounds, seven on the offensive end.
He had two offensive rebounds in overtime, scored with a tip-in once and got to the free throw line eight times for the game, hitting five.
With Varnado out State settled into a zone with Kodi Augustus in the middle, and Kentucky attacked it like the rim held a banner that said “Enter Here.”
Still, a 72-72 game with 1:38 left when Romero Osby scored on a give-and-go with an assist from Barry Stewart. Kentucky came right back, getting a 3-point play when freshman point guard John Wall drove the lane, scored and was fouled by Stewart. Wall hit the free throw, Kentucky led 75-72 and did not trail again.
Bost fires away
Bost, who had 32 points Saturday against Auburn, finished with a game-high 22 points but was only 2-for-10 from 3-point range.
Augustus had 17 points, and Stewart added 16.
Osby was Johnson’s replacement and had a relatively quiet night, going 2-for-6 for five points in 38 minutes. He had four assists, four turnovers and four fouls.
Foul trouble was of little concern at halftime when Varnado had just one, but he picked up three in less than 21⁄2 minutes in the second half.
The Bulldogs were forced to go small or inexperienced or both.
In the zone defense MSU was able to deny Kentucky good looks but couldn’t deny offensive rebounds.
Kentucky had a 29-14 edge on the glass in the first half, 11 of those on the offensive end resulting in eight points.
Patrick Patterson’s put-back gave the Wildcats a 16-15 lead which they extended to seven points. MSU whittled away and trailed 32-29 at halftime.