Neither upperclassman was bothered that a bunch of pups were able to take care of OT-business without them or even junior C Charles Rhodes, who fouled out on the first play of the extra period. "We're not insulted," Slater said. "We're kind of glad they came out."
Freshman G Barry Stewart said the kids were not shaken by Rhodes and Slater leaving the court to them to deal with Kentucky. "And that says a lot for our team. There are a lot of guys who can step up. And Dietric and Charles are great leaders, they were leading on the bench."
MEANWHILE BACK ON THE COURT: But somebody, or bodies, had to play the post for Rhodes. Most of the year rookie C Jarvis Varnado has filled the bill and he did put in nine minutes this game. Varnado even blocked a ball, giving him 60 for the season. But the skinny freshman was no match for the size and skill of big Kat Randolph Morris. So second-year junior Vernon Goodridge got the clutch-call and came through. He only had two rebounds and scored a single basket, but everything mattered this day.
"I thought Vernon came in and gave us some good minutes," Stansbury said. "He for sure gave us a big jump hook (for MSU's first basket of OT). He probably hasn't played 12 minutes in the last seven, eight games, but that's what you have to have sometimes. Tonight was his opportunity to give us some minutes."
Morris still muscled for a game-best 29 points and 15 rebounds and was largely, so to speak, responsible for fouling Rhodes out. Certainly the duo gave each other a good hard pounding when fighting for lane position. "The battle started when the game started," Rhodes said. "It was just rough down there for me and him."
THE PHYSICAL AND THE FURIOUS: ‘Rough' was a fair description on action everywhere on this court and to have only 50 fouls called meant the officials were merely trying to keep a cap on the mayhem. Few had it rougher and tougher than Slater who had to be helped off the court twice in the first quarter, at 17:42 and 14:42. The senior was already playing with an injured left hand, strained lower-back, and hurting right knee.
"I didn't want to get up," he admitted. "The first time I got a stinger in my (right) shoulder, I couldn't feel my arm and I couldn't get up on the other hand because of my fingers. The second time (down on the baseline) I had to think about it, I was on the floor and Jamont said can I move? I said nahhh…but I'm good!"
Good enough to last until inside four minutes of regulation when he fouled out grabbing a Wildcat after a MSU turnover. "I knew I had four fouls and I wasn't expecting to foul out. But Jamont drove and passed the ball to me and a guy tipped it. And I wanted to make sure no got no fast break, no dunks, no wide-open layups."
As for Slater being ready to play Saturday against Arkansas, "It doesn't matter how he feels," Stansbury said. "We'll tape him up and get him ready. The thing that doesn't show on the stat sheet is defensively he is the key to what we're trying to get done with that small lineup."
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: Long-time SEC observers knew better than to count Kentucky out even with only 3.1 seconds left and a two-point deficit. Ignoring traditional grousing regarding UK's legendary luck with officiating at crunch-time, these Wildcats were entirely capable of manufacturing a tying or winning bucket on their own merits.
Yet the Bulldogs, who played intense defense all day, saved their best for the last play. With UK inbounding from the left sideline their side of halfcourt, Stansbury figured they would go for a tying two first and take a longer jumper if necessary. Thus the emphasis was on covering Morris in the post, and indeed that was what the Wildcats looked for. With that covered the second option was guard Joe Crawford.
Again State was ready. "The coaches switched me up and put me on Crawford," Stewart said. "We didn't know if they were going for a two or a three but it looked like a lob for Morris. That was taken away and I saw (Bobby) Perry looking for Crawford, so I overplayed and got a tip." Which ended up in Jamont Gordon's hands in the left corner with two Kats in fouling range. Neither made a move.
"I guess they were stunned," said Gordon. "I was holding onto the ball, making sure I didn't turn it over again." The soph had five giveaways in the game, including one that could have clinched things for Kentucky in regulation. But not this time. "It felt real good, knowing we had won and I had made a big play. It felt great."
NO FOUL, NO HARM: If Gordon was surprised he did not draw a desperation foul on the final play, he was startled that Kentucky let him drive to the arc at the end of regulation and fire an open three-pointer to tie things up. Actually, "I was shocked," Gordon admitted.
It took every bit of the 5.1 seconds left on the second-half clock for the ball to go from the blue baseline into the other net yet Gordon got spotted and shotted in time. "Coach made a great call, he told me line up on the opposite of the ball and curl into so I could get it in my left hand." That allowed Gordon to race a bit left of center and pop the unguarded, tying trey. His first and last of the day, at that.
"It was my only one of the game and I knocked it down." And, took a few moments to show his appreciation of his effort and accuracy as teammates swarmed. "Something just went through me, I don't know," Gordon grinned. "I just got a great feeling inside me and wanted to celebrate a long time."
Gordon finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, his fifth double-double this season and ninth of his MSU career. He also had a team-best four assists. "He was able to get in the lane, to the basket and score, create fouls, and pitch out," Stansbury said.
TRAVELLING MAN: As up-tempo as this game went, the fasted mover of the day was none other than Stansbury. With that 5.1 seconds left and Kentucky's Jodie Meeks setting up for a second, likely game-clinching free throw, the MSU coach saw a Wildcat step into the lane. In the post-call confusion Stansbury raced almost to halfcourt and stopped to stomp, furious and fearing a no-call or worse.
"I didn't know what had been called," admitted Stewart, much closer to the scene than any coach. "I was going over to stop him, I saw the referee going over there and didn't know if he was going to call a technical foul or what. But he got a little emotional."
Afterwards Stansbury could joke. "If that dance made them call it I'll be glad. But I was going to make sure something was going to happen right there. It was an obvious violation and I'll leave it at that."
QUIET PRESENCE: The obvious suspects got most praise for their defensive performances. But Stansbury wanted to note one that might have gone, well, un-noted otherwise. For much of the second half UK guard Joe Crawford was taking over the action, scoring 14 of his 20 points in that period and pushing the Wildcats back in front. With Gordon having to stay around the goal and help on Morris & Co., and Slater fouling out, Stansbury tried to get by with rookie Stewart on the stout junior.
"He overpowered Barry," the coach said. "So the last three-four minutes we had Richard Delk on him." Soph Delk was able to stay in front of Crawford just enough that it slowed his attacks at goal and resulted in a late-game slump. Crawford did not get another goal after 1:35 and missed his last shot of regulation, and both in overtime…including the try to tie at eight seconds.
"It was Richard's range, he went up on that last shot and contested it," Stansbury said.
Adding an ironic element, the block was reminiscent of what happened in Lexington two months ago. With Kentucky up a pair and State's Gordon driving for a tying layup, Morris blocked it and UK recovered for clinching free throws in a 64-60 final.
FEARLESS FRESHMAN: The Wildcats were up by a point, their crowd howling, and the Bulldogs short-handed in overtime. Worry? Who, Ben Hansbrough? Not this rookie guard, who didn't hesitate to pull the trigger on a trey from the right corner.
"To be honest I was ready to shoot it, as soon as the ball touched my hands I was going to let it go," he said. A good call as the shot sank and State was up 81-79. And it was hard to tell if any Bulldog of any age took more pleasure in this victory.
"There's nobody else we wanted to beat more than Kentucky," the Missouri native said. "Look at all the people they brought in, all the stands are going to be empty tomorrow! We sent all the big blue back home." Which once would have been unthinkable in a venue long notorious as ‘Catlanta.' But not in 2007, said Hansbrough.
"It's just not their tournament this year."