STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State suffered another heart-breaking defeat to one of the nation’s elite teams Thursday night.
On Senior Night at Humphrey Coliseum, the Bulldogs erased a 13-point second half deficit before falling to No. 12 Kentucky 81-74 in their third-straight overtime contest.
“I am disappointed,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “I am proud of them. We have lost three games in overtime and that is nobody’s fault other than mine. I loved our passion, our heart and our competitiveness. It came down to a rebound there with 1.2 seconds left.
“To play that hard and that long at home against a team that good, it is disappointing. We know how far we have come. We have come a long way since losing by 50-plus points at their place last year. You really wanted to get them back at home.”
Kentucky improved to 21-7 overall and 9-6 in league play, while MSU fell to 18-11 and 5-10. The Bulldogs had previously taken Top 10 foes Tennessee and South Carolina to the wire here at home. MSU also dropped similar heart-breaking overtime defeats at both Alabama and Ole Miss.
The teams played a competitive game throughout before a boisterous home crowd. The contest was tied five times and the lead changed hands eight times.
Kentucky built an early four-point lead before MSU rallied for an 11-11 tie. Kentucky quickly built the lead back out to nine points at 25-16. The Bulldogs closed within three points at 31-28 on a Kendra Grant basket with 2:13 left in the half.
Kentucky shot 46.7 percent from the field in the opening half and led 38-35 at the intermission.
The Wildcats scored the first six points of the second half and eventually stretched the lead to 13 points at 53-40 with 12:16 left in the contest.
From there, the Bulldogs found a second gear and began to rally. An 8-0 run was capped by a Grant 3-pointer and brought the lead to 53-48 with 10:02 left in the contest.
The Bulldogs closed within three points on two occasions before finally forcing a tie. Savannah Carter got a defensive rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup that tied the game 57-57 with 5:37 left.
MSU eventually enjoyed a 9-0 run and grabbed a 61-57 lead with 4:08 left when a jumper by Jerica James rolled around the iron and dropped home.
Kentucky scored the game’s next seven points and took a 64-61 lead. Still, MSU responded again and managed a 66-64 lead on a James’ 3-pointer with 1:19 left.
Kentucky’s Bria Goss split two free throws to cut the deficit to 66-65. The Bulldogs had a chance on the offensive end but missed a layup.
Still, MSU appeared ready to win when Kentucky missed two shots and time expired as a foul was called. A review placed 1.2 seconds back on the clock and Samarie Walker hit the second of two free throws to force overtime.
In the extra period, the Bulldogs struck quickly for a 69-66 lead but could not hang on. MSU played the extra period without Carter and Grant, each of whom fouled out in regulation.
“We have competed all year in the biggest, baddest conference in the land,” Schaefer said. “Other than a half against Texas A&M, we have played well and it is disappointing that we can’t get these games home. These kids deserve to reap the reward of winning.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 28 of 71 shots from the field (39.4 percent), 5 of 13 shots from 3-point range (38.5 percent) and 13 of 23 shots from the foul line (56.5 percent). The Wildcats hit 29 of 69 shots from the field (42.0 percent), 3 of 7 shots from 3-point range (42.9 percent) and 20 of 29 shots from the foul line (69.0 percent).
Kentucky held a 51-43 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 15 assists and 15 turnovers, while the Wildcats had 12 assists and 16 turnovers.
Breanna Richardson led five MSU players in double figures with 17 points. Martha Alwal had her 10th double-double of the season and 29th of her career with 12 points and 16 rebounds. Grant added 13 points, while James and Carter each added 11 points.
Kentucky received 20 points from Goss, 16 points from DeNesha Stallworth and 10 points from Kastine Evans. Stallworth also had a double-double as she had a game-high 20 rebounds.MSU closes the regular season Sunday at Georgia. The league’s second “Battle of the Bulldogs” is set for a noon start and will be televised regionally by SportSouth.