NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mississippi State gave Kentucky a sliver of daylight Sunday at the end of regulation, and that’s all the No. 2-ranked Wildcats needed to survive 75-74 in overtime in a thrilling SEC tournament championship game.
The Bulldogs, playing for their NCAA tournament lives, had a five-point lead with just under two minutes to play in regulation, but missed three straight free throws, the final one a front end of a one-and-one by sophomore point guard Dee Bost.
Kentucky forced overtime on DeMarcus Cousins’ put-back that just barely beat the buzzer. The officials reviewed the replay and confirmed the basket was good.
The Wildcats (32-2) were trailing 64-61, and Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury instructed his players to foul intentionally. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it was senior guard Barry Stewart who did the fouling, his fifth of the game, and he wasn’t on the floor for any of the overtime.
Kentucky’s Eric Bledsoe made the first free throw with 4.9 seconds to play and purposely missed the second. It was a “good” miss, with the ball bouncing long. John Wall got off a jumper that was short, but Cousins was there to put it back -- setting off a wild celebration.
"The time never ran out. It was the longest 4.9 seconds of my life," Stewart lamented.
Give Mississippi State credit. The Bulldogs battled in overtime and had their chances despite Bridgestone Arena being filled to the brim with blue-clad Kentucky fans.
But an off-balance 3-pointer by Wall to beat the shot-clock buzzer with 27.6 seconds to play was the knockout blow.
All 11 of Kentucky’s points in overtime were scored by freshmen.
It was a bitter loss for Mississippi State, which according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, needed to win to get into the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, probably locked up the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.