STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State placed four players in double figures and turned in a superb defensive effort. However, that was not enough to take down No. 18 Kentucky as the Wildcats claimed a 69-59 win at Humphrey Coliseum on Saturday.
Kentucky improved to 18-5 overall and 8-2 in league play, while MSU fell to 13-10 and 3-7.
“Our defense was really good in the first half,” MSU sophomore forward Gavin Ware said. “It was compact. In the second half, we had too many loose ends. We just have to learn how to do this for two halves. We competed hard. We just have to find a way to push through and get a win.”
Kentucky scored the game’s first six points. MSU answered with an 11-3 run. A dunk by Craig Sword placed the Bulldogs on top, 11-9. The Bulldogs later ran the lead to 17-13 on a pair of free throws by Gavin Ware.
The teams were last tied at 19, before Kentucky ended the half with a 13-4 run. The Bulldogs had an eight-minute stretch with only one made field goal. By the time that stretch ended, Kentucky led 32-23 at halftime.
“I was really pleased with how we competed,” MSU coach Rick Ray said. “When you play hard and have that competitive spirit, you can compete with anybody. From our bodies standpoint and our offensive standpoint, we can’t play without a certain level of energy.”
A layup by Sword brought the Bulldogs within 32-26 less than a minute into the second half. MSU would not get any closer the rest of the way.
Kentucky built the lead to a game-largest 12-point advantage at 51-39 on two James Young free throws with 10:37 left in the contest. The Bulldogs were down 12 two more times, before Ware hit two free throws to bring the deficit to 57-50 with 7:03 left in the contest.
“This team has shown some growth and maturity,” Ware said. “Even though we played ranked teams, they still put on the jersey the same way we do. We just have to keep working hard and take advantage of the scouting report to pull out some wins.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 18 of 47 shots from the field (38.3 percent), 1 of 8 shots from 3-point range (12.5 percent) and 22 of 28 shots from the foul line (78.6 percent). The Wildcats hit 27 of 60 shots from the field (45.0 percent), 3 of 18 shots from 3-point range (16.7 percent) and 12 of 18 shots from the foul line (66.7 percent).
Kentucky held a 38-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had seven assists and 13 turnovers, while the Wildcats had 12 assists and nine turnovers.