Calipari reaches milestone as No. 8 Kentucky crushes Mississippi State

Published 10:45 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky made a milestone victory for coach John Calipari look like business as usual.

Antonio Reeves scored 27 points and No. 8 Kentucky beat Mississippi State 90-77 on Wednesday night for Calipari’s 400th victory with the Wildcats.

Kentucky (13-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) shot 62 percent in the second half and 56 percent overall to provide the milestone victory for the Hall of Famer, who became the third-fastest active coach to achieve that with a program, in 516 contests. Bill Self reached 400 wins in 484 games with Kansas, and Mark Few hit 400 in 499 outings at Gonzaga.

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Calipari downplayed the achievement and said he wasn’t paying attention to numbers but noted, “You stay long enough and you have enough really good players, a lot of those things happen.”

Rob Dillingham added 16 points for the Wildcats, who made 23 of 31 two-point attempts.

Tolu Smith III had 26 points for the Bulldogs (12-5, 1-3). They dropped their third of four SEC games, failing to regroup from a home loss to Alabama. Mississippi State shot 35 percent in the first half and 53 percent in the second.

Meanwhile the SEC’s top scoring offense, ranked second nationally, maintained its per-game average against a defense that entered the game allowing just under 65 points per outing to rank second in the league.

The Bulldogs started 2-of-9 from the field with seven consecutive misses, followed by an 0-for-7 stretch later in the half. Climbing out of the hole it caused proved tough, though they got within two possessions early in the second half before Kentucky stretched its advantage soon after.

Asked to explain the first half, coach Chris Jans said, “I wish I could, but I can’t. Obviously, very disappointed in the first half. Just surprised by the lack of urgency.”

Kentucky’s accurate shooting helped it build a 47-29 halftime lead and forge a cushion after the Bulldogs rallied to 49-43 just after the break. Kentucky outscored Mississippi State 12-3 over a 2:51 span for a double-digit lead and stayed ahead to rebound from a 97-92 overtime loss at Texas A&M on Saturday.

Reeves was 8-of-12 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers and made nine free throws without a miss. He scored 16 points in the first half to jump-start the Wildcats, with Dillingham adding 10 by halftime. Tre Mitchell added 15 points and Aaron Bradshaw 11 for Kentucky.

“We’re just headed in the right direction, to be honest, definitely moving forward,” Reeves said after matching his second-highest scoring effort this season. “We feel more comfortable about ourselves going out there and just scoring.”