"I thought we were doing a good job defensively, we were playing at the intensity needed," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.
While Coach Smith saw it one way, Mississippi State's Mario Austin saw it differently. "We were uptight. We couldn't get any shots to fall for us. We couldn't get in our rhythm."
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury agreed with Mario. "Our team came out the first eight to ten minutes and were really not used to playing in an atmosphere like that. For whatever reason, we did not play very loose. We played uptight and basically took ourselves out of the game."
With his team struggling, coach Stansbury decided a spark was needed, so he brought in reserve Ontario Harper. Ontario did exactly what Stansbury wanted by making a clutch three-pointer to make the score 21-5. That didn't seem like much of a dent at the time, but the other players gained some confidence from the shot.
"Ontario Harper was the man who got us going when he came into the game and made that three," said Derrick Zimmerman. "We were struggling bad. When he hit that three, that just kind of opened things up for us."
While the shot by Harper gave the Bulldogs confidence, Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince tried to shut down that confidence with a jumper to make it 23-5.
Mississippi State would come right back with a 5 to 3 run to make the score 26-10 with 8:14 to go in the first half.
From that point on, Mississippi State and Kentucky traded buckets, making the score 40-24 at halftime.
One of the interesting events in the first half was Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince's reaction to the Mississippi State students who called themselves Rick's Rowdies.
Rick's Rowdies is a group of students who show tremendous support by cheering the Bulldogs, but also get on the other team. Now, they don't say really bad things, just things to attempt to get under the skin of the opponents' players. Tayshaun Prince noticed the group very quickly in the game.
After several of his scores, he looked over at them and gave them what I guess you could call a slight in your face kind of look. Obviously, this made Rick's Rowdies even more hostile to him. There will be more to this story in the second half.
Mississippi State and Kentucky, in the first 4-plus minutes of the second half traded baskets, making the score 48-32, Kentucky.
Then, the Mississippi State team started to take charge.
With the score 50-34, Mississippi State went on a 13-0 run to make the score 50-47. The Bulldogs were back in the game and the crowd was going wild.
Mississippi State's Stansbury has his idea of what happened during this period. "(Derrick Zimmerman) really relaxed midway in the second half of that basketball game. He started finishing plays and passing the basketball. That is Derrick Zimmerman."
Derrick Zimmerman scored 6 of the 13 points, two on a monster dunk inside.
Coach Stansbury also gave credit to another player for the improved play in the second half. "We felt like the part of their defense that we needed to exploit was in the post. We didn't do a very good job of that in the first half. The second half was a different ballgame. I thought that we got the ball inside and that Mario Austin went to war. There was no question he was the best big man on the floor in the second half."
Of Mississippi State's first 23 points in the second half, Mario made 12.
Kentucky would score the next two points after the Bulldogs got the score to 50-47 to make the score 52-47. It started to look like the Wildcats had a chance to get the momentum back.
Mississippi State was having none of that. Zimmerman and Austin continued their good second half play by scoring the next two baskets to pull Mississippi State to within one point. The score was now 52-51 with 8:45 to go in the game.
In the meantime, Rick's Rowdies were also getting the better of it with Tayshaun Prince. Whereas in the first half, Prince made sure the Rowdies knew whenever he made a shot by looking directly at them, the Rowdies made sure Prince knew that he wasn't having much of a second half. In fact, after making 5-of-7 field goal attempts in the first half, Prince made 1-of-6 in the second half. Rick's Rowdies started calling Prince, Princess. Prince never looked over at them in the second half.
Ok, maybe the Rowdies weren't the sole reason Prince was having a tough time of it in the second half. Senior Bulldog Michael Gholar was also doing his part to make life tough for the Prince of Kentucky. "Michael Gholar is not an easy guy to get away from," said Stansbury. "Tonight, when that game was on the line, especially in the second half, (Prince) never took the game over. I think it was a credit to our defense. I don't think they got easy looks, especially Prince. I think that it is a credit to Michael Gholar because he was up in him."
During the next six minutes the teams traded baskets until Mississippi State, on a three-point basket by Marckell Patterson, went up by two, 61-59. Mississippi State led for the first time in the game.
Kentucky, on two free throws by Marquis Estill, tied the score with 1:56 to go.
Kentucky's Erik Daniels fouled State's Zimmerman with 1:41 to go. Mississippi State had a great opportunity to go up by two. However, Zimmerman missed both shots.
Kentucky now had the ball with 1:41 to go and the game tied.
Marckell Patterson, trying to steal the ball, fouled Gerald Fitch. Fitch made both of this free throws. Kentucky now led 63-61 with 1:16 to go.
Mario Austin, driving up the court, turned the ball over. Kentucky's Fitch went in for a layup to make the score 65-61 with just 56 seconds to go in the game.
Things looked bleak for the Bulldogs.
However, Kentucky's Cliff Hawkins fouled Austin with 44 seconds to go. Austin made 1-of-2 to make the score 65-62, Kentucky.
Kentucky then drove down the court but couldn't get a shot away due to great defense by the Bulldogs. Stansbury explained what happened. "We were into them. Kentucky does a special thing for Prince at the end of the game where they screen for him with their point guard. Our guys recognized it and handled it very well."
Mississippi State got the ball back with 17 seconds to go. Kentucky called a timeout to set up their defense.
After the timeout was over, State got the ball to Mario Austin. I'll let him describe what happened from that time until the end of regulation. "I had glanced at the shot clock while I was jogging down the floor. I just stepped up to the line and knocked the trey ball out."
Mario had made a game-tying three-pointer, his first three-pointer of his college career.
How huge was that shot? "His shot was a big-time shot," said Derrick Zimmerman. "Big-time players wait for big-time games to make shots like that. They were talking about how good their big man was inside, but we have one of the best big men in the nation too."
Mississippi State and Kentucky were now into overtime. Both teams's starters were tired after playing so many minutes in regulation, but Mississippi State had an advantage: The home crowd!
"The adrenalin from the crowd helped a lot," said Derrick Zimmerman. "They were up on their feet all night long."
Stansbury agreed. "In the second half, we fed off of the crowd. It was an unbelievable crowd. That is the kind of crowd we need every game."
With the crowd behind them, the Bulldogs scored 9 points in the overtime, 7 of them off of free throws, to win the game 74-69.
While it was the play of the team that won the game, Kentucky's Tubby Smith gave one player most of the credit. "I thought that Mario (Austin) was the difference. We had no answer for him. We couldn't stop him from getting the ball inside."
Mario ended up with 32 points and 8 rebounds. Derrick Zimmerman was the only other Bulldog in double figures with 14 points.
Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince had 18 to lead the Wildcats. Jules Camara scored 12, while Marquis Estill scored 11. No other Wildcat was in double figures.
Mississippi State out-rebounded Kentucky 43-35. Kentucky was the leading rebounding team in the nation coming into the game, out-rebounding their opponents by more than 12.
Mississippi State, who will travel to Arkansas Tuesday night, is now 14-1 overall and 1-0 in SEC play, while Kentucky falls to 9-3, 0-1 in the SEC.
The attendance for the game was 9,347.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.