"The difference in the second half was it got away from us in two ways, we missed free throws and we turned it over," explained Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury. "You can't go on the road and miss free throws and expect to win."
Kentucky looked like they were going to put the game away in the first half after taking a 15-point lead midway in the half, but a scrappy Bulldog team, with leading scorer and rebounder Lawrence Roberts on the bench with 3 fouls for the final 11:55 minutes of the half, went on a run to take a one-point lead.
Kentucky quickly came back to regain the lead, but Mississippi State freshman forward Walter Sharpe, playing in place of Roberts, scored a two-pointer on an offensive rebound to tie the game with 2:10 left in the half.
Kentucky then went on a 5-0 run to go up 46-41 before a Walter Sharpe pass, with 18 seconds left in the first half, penetrated the Kentucky defense, allowing Harper to score an east layup to pull the Dogs to within three, 46-43, at halftime.
Stansbury was impressed with the play of his team in the first half.
"We found a way to score and scored in transition," said Stansbury of his team's first half performance. "Our guards handled their defensive pressure."
The second half was a different story for Stansbury's team from the moment the whistle blew to start the half.
Kentucky went on a 10-0 run to jump out to a 56-43 lead. That pumped up the very partisan Rupp Arena crowd, all 24,000+ strong.
"Once the crowd got into it, the energy level picked up and helped give their team momentum," said Stansbury.
Roberts tried to get his team back into the game by scoring a two-pointer to pull to within 11, 56-45, with 16:42 in the second half, but minutes later he was called for his fourth foul and was pulled from the game with his team trailing 61-49.
Kentucky took advantage of Roberts' absence by scoring the next 7 points to pull out to a 68-49 lead.
Stansbury quickly brought Roberts back in, but the Wildcats continued to expand the lead, going out in front 82-57 with about 7 minutes to play.
Roberts exited the game for good with 6:52 left to play when he injured his knee attempting to steal the ball.
The Bulldog team seemed to regroup during the injury timeout for Roberts and outscored the Wildcats 21-12 to make the final score 94-78.
"I'm very proud of the way our kids battled," said Stansbury. "They never quit. They kept fighting."
Stansbury was also very pleased with the performance of his two freshmen forwards, Sharpe (13 minutes, 5 points, 5 rebounds) and Charles Rhodes (13 minutes, 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks).
"The two freshmen played well for us," said Stansbury. "They competed well. They made mistakes but played them at full speed. And they played with effort and toughness."
Winsome Frazier, playing his second game for the Bulldogs since coming back from a foot injury, scored 11 points in 26 minutes of play. Stansbury was pleased with what he saw but felt that Frazier was not 100% just yet.
"Even though he scored 11 points for us and was 3 for 5 from the three point line, he was limping around out there," said Stansbury.
The Bulldogs now travel to Athens, Georgia Wednesday night to take on the Georgia Bulldogs.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.