Cats hold on to beat Mississippi State

Published 2:35 pm Thursday, February 16, 2023

BY KEITH TAYLOR

Kentucky Today

Kentucky coach John Calipari has rarely lost to Mississippi State.

He improved to 18-1 against the Bulldogs on Wednesday night as the Wildcats ended a two-game losing streak with a 71-68 triumph in Starkville. Kentucky has won its last eight road games against Mississippi State and ended the Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak.

For the second straight game, the shorthanded Wildcats were without senior guards Sahvir Wheeler and C.J. Fredrick. Wheeler continues to nurse an injured ankle, while Fredrick sat out nursing injured ribs.

Kentucky (17-9, 8-5 Southeastern Conference) led by 13 with 8:33 remaining before Mississippi State’s late surge made things interesting down the stretch. The win gave the Wildcats their second quad 1 win of the year. Mississippi State and Kentucky entered the game as NCAA tournament “bubble” teams.

The Bulldogs narrowed the margin to one at 69-68 with three seconds remaining, but senior Oscar Tshiebwe made two free throws, while the Bulldogs (17-9, 5-8 SEC) misfired on a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Tshiebwe recorded a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He made three free throws in the closing seconds to help the Wildcats stay in front.

Jacob Toppin followed Tshiebwe with 16 points, followed by Antonio Reeves with 14 points and Chris Livingston with 13. Reeves and Toppin carried the load for Kentucky with 11 points each in the first half. Reeves connected on three of his four shots from long range in the opening frame.

Livingston did all of his scoring in the second half and grabbed a crucial offensive rebound with eight seconds remaining and the Wildcats clinging to a 66-64 lead. A pair of free throws increased the margin to four and kept Kentucky from a total collapse in the final eight minutes.

Mississippi State, one of the top defensive teams in the conference, struggled from the field and didn’t make a field goal during an eight-minute stretch in the second half. Tolu Smith paced the Bulldogs with 20 points.

Kentucky returns to the floor Saturday at Rupp Arena to face Tennessee. Kentucky beat the Volunteers 63-56 in Knoxville back on Jan. 14. The Vols, coming off consecutive buzzer-beating losses to Vanderbilt and Missouri, defeated No. 1 Alabama 68-59 on Wednesday.