Mississippi State had a chance to win their second straight SEC Tournament Championship this past weekend in the Superdome in New Orleans.
In the first half against Kentucky, MSU got behind early, trailing 11-4 with 17:04 on the first half clock.
You could feel that the 15,000 to 16,000 Kentucky fans in attendance thought that this was going to be another blowout once their team went ahead by 7.
But then again, these Bulldogs weren't the same type teams that Kentucky had played the first two games of the tournament. These Bulldogs don't get intimidated; they just work a little harder.
They quieted the Kentucky crowd by going on a 16-5 run that put them ahead 20-16. Just to show you how balanced the offensive attack was, no one player scored more than one basket during that run. In fact, seven Bulldogs scored a basket.
The Bulldogs eventually expanded their lead to seven, 27-20, with 6:54 left on the clock, but the Wildcats finished the first half with a 10-4 run that left them within 1 of the Bulldogs.
In the second half, the teams continued battling back and forth like two heavyweight fighters slugging it out. Neither one could deliver that one punch that could knock out the other.
Kentucky's fans, when their team got a 9-point lead, 54-45, with 7:22 to go in the game, thought the knockout punch was coming. Even I could sense it after seeing Kentucky knock out their first two tournament opponents.
But this MSU team is no ordinary team. It is a team with guys who find a way to recover when knocked to the ground. And you never know who the guy will be who will step up. This time it was reserve guard Winsome Frazier. After the teams traded baskets, Frazier hit a two-pointer to pull MSU within 5, 56-51. After Zimmerman made 1-of-2 free throws, Frazier did it again by calmly hitting a three that pulled MSU within one, 56-55.
After the MSU defense made a crucial stop, it looked like MSU was going to take a lead on a field goad by Austin but he was fouled by Kentucky's Hayes before he could score the bucket.
With 1:51 to go on the second half clock, Austin calmly stepped to the line. If he made his two free throws, MSU would go ahead, 57-56. He attempted his first one. It bounced around, then fell off to the side. Second shot, same results. The momentum that looked to be in MSU's favor shifted over to the Wildcats.
Kentucky turned right around and made a two-pointer and two free throws to go up by five with 1:06 to go in the game.
While there were many other opportunities for MSU to score points during the game, there is always a crucial play or two that is considered a turning point. Those two missed free throws was that turning point in this game and something that MSU never recovered from.
MSU went on to lose 64-57, a score that was not indicative of the colossal effort that was put forth by a MSU team that will make some huge noise in the upcoming NCAA Tournament in Birmingham this Friday and Sunday.
In the believe it or not category...
Did I hear right? A Kentucky fan yelled out to the refs to get in the game and be fair and call it the same on both sides. Maybe he should have looked up at the scoreboard. If he had, he would have noticed that his team had 4 fouls and MSU had 9.
With their team down in the first half, a few Kentucky fans told a friend of mine that this game didn't mean that much; they were just waiting for the NCAA Tournament. Really? How about telling that to the 100's of Kentucky fans that were quietly standing with their arms folded wondering what the heck was going on when MSU pulled to within 3 with 44 seconds to go in the game.
Derrick Zimmerman went in for a dunk during the game and was grabbed by a Kentucky player. A foul was called. However, Derrick thought it was kind of funny when the call was made on the player that was guarding Mario Austin and not the one who actually grabbed him.
Somebody must have been asleep at the wheel because the NCAA actually did MSU a favor and put them in the Birmingham, Alabama regional. I guess after the Austin fiasco early in the year and after they messed MSU over just a little too much last year when they put them in Dallas, Texas, they decided to do MSU a favor this year. Maybe there's hope for the NCAA after all.
After wondering if Tubby Smith was the man for the job at Kentucky early in the season when they lost three of their non-conference games, one of which was an 18-point loss to arch-rival Louisville, a team now coached by former Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino, the Kentucky fans were touting him as the national coach of the year after the conclusion of their victory over MSU. Truthfully, I can't really say a whole lot about that because fans are nothing if not fickle. I guess it is the 'what have you done for me lately syndrome'.
Well, it's 3 a.m. in the morning and I got a MSU men's basketball press conference to go to Monday afternoon, so that'll have to do it for this MMCF.
Have a great Bulldog week!
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.