By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State had the sellout crowd, the energy, the ESPN spotlight, the fast start, and for a while it had the No. 1 in the country on the ropes.
It was a night that had everything but what mattered most: A victory.
MSU ultimately became just another victim of Kentucky, which rallied for a 73-64 win Tuesday night at Humphrey Coliseum. It was the 19th consecutive win for the top-ranked Wildcats (27-1, 13-0 SEC), and the fourth straight loss for the Bulldogs (19-9, 6-7).
Darius Miller led the charge off the bench, scoring all 12 of his points in the final eight minutes. He keyed a 15-2 run that gave Kentucky the lead for good, and a short-handed State team had no answer.
“These guys played with their hearts, man,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “There’s not an ounce of energy they brought back to the locker room.”
MSU managed only two field goals after staking a 60-53 lead with 6:17 left in the game. That’s when UK went on its run.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s putback with 4:11 left gave Kentucky its first lead of the night, and MSU, which led by as many as 13 points in the first half, never got it back.
The dagger was a long 3-point shot by Miller to make it 71-64 with 1:30 left.
Dee Bost had 21 points for MSU, but only five after halftime after UK coach John Calipari assigned Kidd-Gilchrist to him.
Freshman Rodney Hood missed the second half with a knee injury, limiting MSU to a six-man rotation.
“Huge, huge blow for us,” Stansbury said.
Arnett Moutrie and Jalen Steele had 13 points each for MSU. Kidd-Gilchrist led Kentucky with 18 on 7-of-12 shooting, while Anthony Davis scored 13.
MSU came out and fed off the high-octane atmosphere – 10,213 were in attendance – racing to a 12-2 lead as Bost broke down Kentucky’s defense off the dribble. His 3-pointer at the 8:36 mark made it 25-13, and another three pushed it to 34-21.
Steele’s 3-pointer gave State a 41-28 halftime lead.
“I told them at halftime, this is not all bad. We’re down six baskets, let’s show everybody what we’re made of,” Calipari said.
Kentucky opened the second half with an 11-2 run, with two Davis free throws cutting State’s lead to 43-39.
Moultrie was called for a tech, and Davis’ free throws made it 50-47 with 11:57 to go.
Kentucky was within 55-53 when Moultrie threw down a putback slam, and then Bost drained a 3-pointer with 6:28 left.