LEXINGTON, Ky. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – Mississippi State played one of its best first halves of the season.
Still, it was not enough to lift the Bulldogs to a victory in their Southeastern Conference men’s basketball opener.
MSU surrendered the three-point halftime lead and dropped an 85-63 decision to No. 14 Kentucky before a crowd of 23,638 in the Rupp Arena.
“We did a really good job of executing the game plan and competing as a team,” MSU head coach Rick Ray said. “(Kentucky has) better individual talent. When you play a team like that, you have to offset that by playing together as a team.
“I thought we did that in the first half. In the second half, we went more on our own and we aren’t a team that can have a lot of success when we do that.”
The Bulldogs (10-4 overall, 0-1 conference) scored the game’s first five points and quickly built a 12-2 lead with less than five minutes played. Overplaying the passing lanes and forcing turnovers, the Bulldogs played spirited.
Kentucky (11-3, 1-0) was still down 10 at 18-8 before fighting back with 14-2 run for its first lead at 22-20 on two free throws by Dominique Hawkins with 7:25 left in the half.
Not deterred, the Bulldogs quickly fought back and took a six point lead by scoring six points on one possession. Roquez Johnson dunked and drew a flagrant foul. Playing for Johnson, Colin Borchert hit both free throws. Jacoby Davis followed with a layup for a 34-28 lead with 3:12 left in the half.
Trivante Bloodman scored as the half expired to push the MSU advantage to 40-37 at halftime.
In the second half, MSU trailed 54-51 with 13:11 left to play after a basket by Johnson. The Bulldogs then missed seven straight shots from the field as the Wildcats seized control with a game-changing 20-2 run.
A lack of depth and foul trouble hurt the Bulldogs’ chances to mount a series counter-attack to the big run.
“I told the guys after the game that was it going to be disappointing that no one will know how well they played in the first half, because we didn’t give ourselves a chance in the second half,” Ray said. “People will see the final score and not realize how hard we played and competed. We just quit doing some of the things that were allowing us to be successful.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 23 of 57 shots from the field (40.4 percent), 3 of 11 shots from 3-point range (27.3 percent) and 14 of 18 shots from the foul line (77.8 percent). The Wildcats hit 30 of 61 shots from the field (49.2 percent), 4 of 20 shots from 3-point range (20.0 percent) and 21 of 33 shots from the foul line (63.6 percent).
Kentucky held a 44-28 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 12 assists and 15 turnovers, while the Wildcats had 18 assists and 12 turnovers.
Craig Sword led MSU with 19 points, while Bloodman had 13 points and Johnson had 12 points. Ware pulled down 10 rebounds in 24 minutes of action.
UK received a double-double from James Young (26 points, 10 rebounds). Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress each had 12 points. Julius Randle had a game-high 14 rebounds.
MSU hosts Ole Miss at 3 p.m. Saturday. The in-state rivalry will be televised regionally by The SEC Network from Humphrey Coliseum.