STARKVILLE, Miss. --- Known in the not-so-distant past as the "Comeback Cats" for their ability to overcome large deficits, Kentucky found itself in the unusual role of the "Collapse Cats" here Saturday.
Mississippi State center Mario Austin hit the first 3-pointer of his career with seven seconds left in regulation, then scored five of his career-high 32 points in overtime as the Bulldogs came back from a 20-point deficit to defeat No. 6 Kentucky 74-69.
The unranked Bulldogs, who entered the game seeking respect after a 13-1 start, fell behind 21-2 and trailed 48-32 with 15:40 left in the second half. But Austin, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, delivered 25 points after the break, and point guard Derrick Zimmerman scored eight consecutive points in a 19-4 run to get MSU back in the game.
It marked the first time in seven years the Bulldogs have defeated a Top 10 team at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I'm sure that people now know that we're a pretty good team," Austin said. "It's a statement to everyone."
"We tried not to talk about how special this game is, because it just counts as either one win or one loss," said MSU coach Rick Stansbury, a Kentucky native who was 0-3 against the Cats coming into the game. "But we all knew, especially when you're playing Kentucky, what it means to beat a very good basketball team."
Meanwhile, Kentucky (9-3) left the floor searching for answers to one of the worst collapses in school history and its first loss in an SEC opener since 1986.
"I don't really know what happened," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "I think it came so easy for them in the first half, then we had a wave of turnovers and didn't attack their zone. We didn't know how to respond to their aggressiveness when they got the crowd back into it and the momentum."
The Cats shot 45 percent from the field and held MSU to only 39 percent, but committed 21 turnovers and were outrebounded (43-35) for the first time since a season-opening loss to Western Kentucky.
The Cats scored only 29 points in the final 25 minutes of play. Senior forward Tayshaun Prince managed only four points during that span after tallying 14 in the first half. He attempted only two shots in a 14-minute span of the second half, and only one in overtime, a desperation 3-pointer with five seconds left.
"We started standing around a little bit, and that was why we weren't getting good opportunities in the second half," Prince said.
His high-profile teammate, Keith Bogans, was held scoreless in the final 41:36 after opening the game with seven quick points. He missed an uncontested layup with 27 seconds left in overtime that would have given UK a one-point lead. Instead, Bogans fouled trying to strip the rebound from the Bulldogs' Markell Patterson, and the ensuing free throws iced the victory.
"We talked about the killer instict," Smith said. "This is the second time this season we've lost a game in overtime where we've had a big lead in the second half, first against Duke and now against a good Mississippi State team. So this is the type of game where we have to have people step up and make plays. They did a good job of shutting down Keith and Tayshaun in the second half, so we have to have other people step up. We just didn't find that today."
But the main difference in the game, Smith said, was MSU's Austin, who was 10-for-19 from the field and 11-of-18 at the foul line. He also pulled down eight rebounds and recorded two steals.
"Austin was the difference in the game. We had no answer for him inside," Smith said. "We did a poor job of pressuring the ball and allowing the ball in to him. You can't stop him one-on-one. We never got down in the trap like we should. And when we did trap, we fouled him, so it was just a poor job."
Smith will now be watching closely to see how the Cats respond to the sting of a tough loss.
"We talked about character," he said. "We started the season with a loss to Western Kentucky, and we went in the gym and worked. We didn't blame anybody, we went to work and responded the right way. That's what we've got to do now because I know it's a tough loss to handle."