At the buzzer: Kentucky mens basketball defeats Mississippi State 71-68


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) high fives forward Jacob Toppin (0) after the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 69-53. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky mens basketball defeated Mississippi State 71-68 in Starkville, snapping a recent losing streak that began with Arkansas on Feb. 7.

The Wildcats entered the matchup after suffering a road loss in Athens against Georgia, with the Bulldogs coming out on top 75-68 to avenge their loss on Jan. 17 inside Rupp Arena.

The loss to the Bulldogs saw Kentucky completely drop out of ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s “bracketology,” putting the Cats as the first team out of the field of 68 to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Desperate for significant wins to get back into the field, the Cats were presented with a significant opportunity, facing off against Mississippi State in Starkville, with a potential win over the Bulldogs counting as a quadrant-1 opportunity.

Kicking things off with a starting lineup of Cason Wallace, Antonio Reeves, Chris Livingston, Jacob Toppin and Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky faced off against Mississippi State’s starting five that consisted of D.J. Jeffries, Tolu Smith, Shakeel Moore, Cameron Matthews and Dashawn Davis. The Cats were once again at a disadvantage, being without Sahvir Wheeler and CJ Fredrick due to injury, with Wheeler dealing with an ankle injury and Fredrick having injured ribs.

Kentucky Wildcats guard Antonio Reeves (12) attempts a 3-pointer during the Kentucky vs. Georgia mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia. UK lost 68-75. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff (Isabel McSwain)

With the Wildcats winning the opening tipoff, Wallace would put up the first shot of the game, though he would be blocked by Smith. The Wildcats would quickly regroup and recover the ball, with Toppin scoring the first points of the night down low.

Reeves took over early, recording 11 points just over 10 minutes into the game to lead all scorers. With seven minutes left in the first half Reeves had recorded all three of Kentucky’s 3-pointers up to that point, just under half of the total number of threes in the entire game, shooting 75% from beyond the arc.

Kentucky as a team would continue to shoot over 50% from the field, entering the halftime break with a 52% shooting percentage on 29 attempts.

The effort was good enough to give the Cats a 36-35 lead at the break after the Mathews drained a 3-pointer to end the half.

Reeves’ 11 points were enough to give him a share of being the leading scorer of the half, being tied with both Toppin and MSSU’s Smith.

Kentucky outrebounded the Bulldogs 19-8 after the first 20, but reigning consensus National Player of the Year Tshiebwe was once again noticeably unable to take over, recording just eight points and five rebounds in the half.

Coming out of the break the two teams quickly traded points with Smith notching a layup and Tshiebwe making a mid-range jumper to keep the score similar.

The Bulldogs were unsatisfied with continuing to trail by one though, with Moore slamming down a dunk and Davis recording a layup to give MSSU a three-point lead.

The Cats refused to go away and suffer a third-consecutive loss, powering ahead to a 13-point (56-43) lead with just over eight minutes left to play. With seven minutes left in the game the trio of Toppin, Reeves and a renewed Tshiebwe had all recorded 13-or-more points for the Wildcats, while only Smith and Moore had recorded a double-digit point total for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs battled back though, shrinking the lead back to four points with just under five minutes remaining as the Cats went on a scoring drought that lasted around four minutes.

Livingston recorded a jumper for Kentucky to end the drought before Davis drained a 3-pointer for the Bulldogs to get the difference down to three points.

Kentucky Wildcats forward Chris Livingston (24) dunks the ball during the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 69-53. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Despite their best efforts, the Bulldogs ultimately failed to battle back in the end losing by just three points, granting the Cats their second quadrant-1 victory of the season and likely putting them back into Lunardi’s bracket, albeit not in a very secure position.

The Wildcats were led in scoring by Tshiebwe, who recorded 18 points, followed by Toppin (16), Reeves (14) and Livingston (13). Tshiebwe would not be the leading scorer of the game though, with those honors going to Smith, who recorded 22 points in what would ultimately be a losing effort for MSSU.

With the win the Wildcats will look to sweep the Volunteers of Tennessee for the first time since the 2011-12 season that ended in Calipari’s first and only national title with Kentucky. The Vols are set to enter Rupp Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18, with a tip off time slated for 1 p.m. EST and airing live on CBS.