By Jim Mashek/The Sun Herald
The fallout from Mississippi State’s nationally televised game with second-ranked Kentucky has begun.
And it has nothing to do with the final score, as the tradition-rich Wildcats slipped past Mississippi State, 81-75, in overtime on Tuesday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
Kentucky capitalized on two or three questionable calls down the stretch that helped the Wildcats post their 25th victory against a single defeat, while damaging the Bulldogs’ hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament.
John Calipari, the Wildcats’ first-year coach, was delayed in conducting a postgame interview with ESPN’s Jeanine Edwards because objects were flying onto the court from the stands, and he was trying to get the UK players off the floor and into the locker room area.
ESPN had reported during the game that DeMarco Cousins, the Wildcats’ talented freshman forward, had received inappropriate text messages and phone calls to his cell phone before the game, and Cousins seemed to be taunting the crowd after the issue had been decided.
Greg Byrne, Mississippi State’s athletic director, said the school would do its “best to track down those individuals responsible” for the plastic bottles being thrown on the floor, and addressed the reports that Cousins had been contacted before the game by some Bulldogs fans.
Byrne said “appropriate disciplinary action” would be taken in the school’s probe of both incidents in an open letter to MSU students, fans and supporters.
“The postgame events,” Byrne wrote, “in which some of our fans threw items on the playing floor, were totally unacceptable. It is our goal — one of our five defining principles as an athletic department — that we will act in a first-class manner as we compete for championships. We will never truly be considered winners … if we do not act with class and integrity.
“No matter what transpires on the court, or the field, there is never justification for fans throwing debris, or in any other similar way, to demonstrate displeasure.”
Byrne was clearly displeased with what happened, and lamented that “because of the actions of a few, we embarrassed ourselves on national television and damaged the university’s name.”
MSU president Mark Keenum and Blake Jeter, the student body president, also weighed in on the issue.
“I was upset and disappointed,” Keenum said, “that the ill-advised actions of just a few of our fans overshadowed a tremendous performance by our basketball team against the Kentucky Wildcats. This was an embarrassment for our university.”
Jeter praised the “atmosphere” of the game and urged students to act more appropriately in future MSU athletic events.
“The student community here,” he said, “will be absolutely committed to ensuring that events like (Tuesday night) will not happen again.”
Mississippi State (18-8, 6-5 in the SEC) faces the LSU Tigers on Saturday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.