Cats season ends after 74-73 loss to Mississippi State in SEC Tournament

Cats season ends after 74-73 loss to Mississippi State in SEC Tournament
UK head coach John Calipari after 74-73 SEC Tournament loss to Mississippi State (Source: WAVE 3 News)

(WAVE) - The worst UK men’s basketball season in almost 100 years ended Thursday afternoon with a 74-73 loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Bulldogs dominated the first half, building a 44-30 halftime lead. They outrebounded the Cats by 15 in first 20 minutes and dominated the paint.

“The way we started the game was so disappointing,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “Basically we got punked. I mean, they’re plus-15 rebounds. Are you kidding me? I’ve never seen that. Division I against Division III maybe, but I’ve never seen 15. Are you going to be down 30 rebounds? They’re going to out-rebound you 15 to 20? I never heard of such a thing.”

His team responded in the second half. After trailing 51-36 with just under 18 minutes to play, UK went on a three-point barrage.

Dontaie Allen caught fire, just like he did against the Bulldogs in Starkville on January 2.

His fifth three-pointer of the half capped a 12-2 run and gave the Cats a 65-64 lead with 6:21 left.

A Davion Mintz three increased the UK lead to 71-66 with 4:31 remaining, but the final four minutes have been the Cats undoing all season.

“It’s just disappointing and let me say, kind of like the year went, you know, a couple of baskets here, a block here, they make a free throw, we miss a free throw,” Calipari said.

Iverson Molinar hit back-to-back three’s for Mississippi State to give them a 72-71 lead.

Olivier Sarr scored in the paint to put UK back in front 73-72 with 1:17 left.

After each team failed to convert, Mississippi State’s Molinar was fouled by Isaiah Jackson with 7.1 seconds on the clock.

He hit both free throws for a 74-73 Bulldogs lead.

After a Kentucky timeout, Mintz inbounded the ball to Keion Brooks, got in back and sprinted past midcourt before finding an open Allen. His deep three-pointer bounced high off the back of the rim to seal the outcome.

The final 74-73 Mississippi State.

“I mean you can’t really ask for a better shot, especially from someone like me that has the ultimate confidence in myself,” Allen said. “You know I had it lined up straight, it just hit the back end, so I don’t know, you know what, I’ll live with that, it was a good shot.”

Allen tied his career-high with 23 points, hitting 6-13 three’s . Mintz added 16, going 4-7 from three. Sarr finished with 14 and Brooks 10.

“My teams historically played like if they lost, they were going to the electric chair,” Calipari said. “This team did not. Times we did. But maybe physically we weren’t capable of that. But you know what, here is what I would say. For them to play how they started that game, then to play the second half the way they played, says something about them. They never quit on anything. They didn’t quit one time this year.”

“I think the biggest goal coming into today was, it wasn’t anything individually,” Allen said. “I wanted my team to get a win. I wanted us to go on a roll and I’m just, I’m disappointed, like I’m upset that the fact that this team couldn’t show what we actually are.”

UK’s season ends at 9-16, the first losing season for a Kentucky team since the 1988-89 Cats went 13-19 in the final season under Eddie Sutton.

Mississippi State improves to 15-13 and faces SEC regular season champion Alabama (21-6) on Friday at 12 p.m. in an SEC Tournament quarterfinal.

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