Starkville Daily News
Bulldogs tripped up by Wildcats
Since starting 1-7 in Southeastern Conference play, Mississippi State found its life in year one under Chris Jans with five-straight wins entering Wednesday night's all-important matchup with Kentucky.
With a sold out crowd at Humphrey Coliseum and MSU'S NCAA Tournament hopes climbing, the game felt as important as any in recent years. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it followed some of the same scripts as many Kentucky games have in the last decade plus.
State went scoreless for nearly 8 minutes in the second half and dug itself a hole too deep to overcome. A late rally from MSU was thwarted in the end as the Wildcats were able to escape with a 71-68 win.
The victory for Kentucky was the eighth-straight at Humphrey Coliseum.
The Bulldog error in the game came in the middle of the second half. After going on a 6-0 run and taking a 41-38 lead with 16 minutes left, MSU fell into a hole. For nearly 8 minutes, the Bulldogs scored just two points and gave up 18 to Kentucky to fall behind by as much as 56-43 with 8:33 remaining.
“They played really good and we didn't,” MSU head coach Chris Jans said. “My comments in the huddle were I love how we're playing offense. It was as good as we've played all year. They just played really well and we didn't.”
The Bulldogs were able to find their energy again shortly after and got as close as three points with under 4 minutes left, but the Wildcats always had an answer.
Offensive rebounds were a big reason for those answers for Kentucky. MSU was demolished on second chances as the Wildcats had 18 offensive rebounds and 18 second chance points. The biggest of those came in the final 10 seconds when a missed 3-pointer was rebounded with the Bulldogs down by two points and Kentucky hit the free throws.
“That's the tale of the tape,” Jans said of the offensive boards. “It's real easy for me or any other coach to talk about rebounding. (Kentucky) is really good at it. Obviously, they were committed to the glass tonight.”
State got as close as one point in the final 3 seconds and had a chance to get a 3 off to tie the game at the buzzer, but it slipped out of Shakeel Moore's hand.
The Bulldogs shot 50% from the field hitting 24of-48 shots, made 6-of-20 3-pointers and 14-of-19 from the free-throw line. The Wildcats were similar hitting 25-of-55 shots, an identical 6-of-20 from three and 15-of-20 from the line. The difference in the game was on the boards where the Wildcats dominated with a 38-22 advantage and the big offensive boards.
Tolu Smith brought his “A” game against defending SEC Player of the Year and All-american Oscar Tshiebwe. Smith finished with 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting with five rebounds and 6-of-7 free throws. Tshiebwe had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
“We can't hang our head,” Smith said. “It's on to the next one. We've got to get back to the drawing board, do what we do best and that's work hard.”
Moore had 14 points but was 1-of-7 from the 3-point line. Dashawn Davis had 13 points on 4-of-8 with a couple of 3-pointers. Cameron Matthews had 11 points on 4-of-5 with seven rebounds and six assists.
The loss puts MSU at 17-9 for the year with a 5-8 SEC mark. It makes the margin for error smaller for the Bulldogs in the final five games of the schedule. State came into the game as one of the last four teams in and most prognosticators projected the Bulldogs in the field even with a loss.
MSU now must bounce back on Saturday as it heads to Oxford for a key rivalry matchup against Ole Miss.