At the half: Miss. State 35, Kentucky 31

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With its NCAA tournament fate hanging in the balance, Mississippi State is playing some inspired basketball.

They’re not backing down, either, from a Kentucky team that’s bigger, deeper and more athletic.

The smaller Bulldogs won the rebounding battle in the first half and took a 35-31 lead into the locker room over the No. 2-ranked Wildcats.

The first 20 minutes was easily the best half of basketball the SEC tournament has seen this week.

Ravern Johnson had 12 points in the first half for the Bulldogs and was 5-of-7 from the field. When he’s shooting the ball well, Mississippi State is a different team. He didn’t play in the first game between the teams a month ago because he was suspended.

For Kentucky, freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins continues to have a yo-yo tournament. After dominating the interior against Tennessee in the semifinals, he was held scoreless in the first half Sunday. He picked up two fouls and only played eight minutes.

It was also a quiet half for Kentucky freshman point guard John Wall, who was 1-of-6 from the field for two points.

The Wildcats only had three offensive rebounds in the first half.

The Bulldogs have been able to stay out of foul trouble. The only guy with two is Barry Stewart.