Kentucky fends off Mississippi State in overtime

Published 10:53 am Wednesday, January 26, 2022

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — To John Calipari, his latest milestone only means he’s been coaching a long time.

Fittingly, No. 12 Kentucky and the Hall of Fame coach needed an five extra minutes to reach 800 career on-court victories.

Kellan Grady scored eight points in overtime, including consecutive 3-pointers about a minute apart, and Sahvir Wheeler added two free throws to lift the Wildcats over Mississippi State 82-74 on Tuesday night.

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“I have to publicly thank all my players, going back to UMass and Memphis and here,” Calipari said of winning that many games.

Grady finished with 18 points and Oscar Tshiebwe added 21 points with 22 rebounds for Kentucky (16-4, 6-2 Southeastern Conference). After missing a 3-pointer at the end of regulation, Grady regrouped in the extra session to drive the baseline for a layup before adding 3s with 2:23 and 1:13 remaining for an 80-74 lead.

“Sometimes it is crucial to see the ball go in once or twice,” said Grady, who made 7 of 16 overall and 4 of 11 from long range. “I put my head down and drove and made the reverse layup, and then hit the next two 3s after that.”

Calipari praised Grady’s persistence, adding, “He missed four wide open shots, I told him to keep shooting the ball and we designed a play for him. He’s shown he can miss some shots and come back.”

Wheeler twice made the first of two free throws to extend the lead on the Bulldogs, whose only basket in overtime came from Iverson Molinar, a layup with 2:43 left.

The Wildcats led 53-38 with 12:25 left before the Bulldogs (13-6, 4-3) rallied by holding Kentucky scoreless over four minutes. Molinar scored 22 of his career-high 30 points in the second half to lead Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs were coming off a 78-60 rout of rival Ole Miss on Saturday. They shot 62 percent in the second half to erase the deficit but made just 1 of 7 in overtime (14 percent) and missed a chance for their first victory in Rupp Arena since 2009.

“We told ourselves to be more confident — to come out and execute plays. We wanted to be more aggressive in the second half, and that’s what I feel like we did,” said Molinar, who was 13-of-21 from the field. “We had a lot more swag in the second half. Our coaches did a great job of keeping us in that second half, but unfortunately we came up short.”

The Bulldogs lost for the second time in three games, after winning three of their first four in conference play. They’ll step out of the conference on Saturday to play at No. 13 Texas Tech in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and then return home to face South Carolina on Feb. 1.

“You’ve got to try to look at the ability to learn from games like these. We’re going to have more games like these. We’ve got a lot of tough road games ahead including one against the one of the best teams in the country on Saturday at Texas Tech. Hopefully, our guys learn from it,” Howland said. “One of the biggest things is mental toughness. You’ve got to be mentally tough especially in an environment like tonight when it’s us against the world.”