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Kentucky’s Ramel Bradley (3) questions a foul call in the second half of the Wildcats’ 84-82 loss to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament Friday.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Kentucky’s Ramel Bradley (3) questions a foul call in the second half of the Wildcats’ 84-82 loss to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament Friday.

Miss. State turns Kentucky blue
Bulldog freshman the difference in overtime

By Bradley Handwerger · 340-2462

ATLANTA — With Charles Rhodes in foul trouble, Jamont Gordon gave Mississippi State a chance to beat Kentucky in the SEC tournament’s second round Friday.

But the two players who played critical roles in Mississippi State earning the Western Division’s No. 1 seed only could watch as reserve freshman Barry Stewart, mired in a slump for the second half of the conference season, won the game.

Gordon’s 3-pointer at the buzzer to end regulation pushed the game into overtime, then Stewart scored the Bulldogs’ final three points to give Mississippi State an 84-82 win. Stewart also knocked a Kentucky inbounds pass away with 3.1 seconds left, denying the Wildcats a chance at a game-tying shot.

Mississippi State (18-12) now plays Arkansas in Saturday’s noon semifinal. The Razorbacks beat Vanderbilt 72-71 in the second game of Friday’s early session at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

“When things looked bleak, they kept fighting and giving themselves a chance at the end to win the basketball game,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.

Gordon finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Rhodes finished with 15 points and seven boards.

Yet, neither was involved in the most bizarre play of the game, one that ultimately put Kentucky (21-11) out of the tournament despite coming back from a 14-point second-half deficit.

With the game tied at 73, Kentucky’s Sheray Thomas tipped in a Joe Crawford miss for a 75-73 lead.

After several fruitless possessions by both teams, the Wildcats’ Jodie Meeks picked up a rebound on Stewart’s missed 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left. Meeks drew a foul on the play.

Meeks, who finished with 14 points, made the first free throw giving Kentucky a 76-73 lead. He didn’t get a chance at his second opportunity.

As referee J.B. Caldwell bounced the ball back to Meeks for the second shot, Thomas stepped off the lane.

Violation, Caldwell said. Turnover. Mississippi State ball.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith took the blame, saying afterward he told Thomas to back away.

“At that time, I didn’t see the official passing the ball, so it was probably my fault for telling him to move off the lane,” Smith said. “I guess the rule is once it leaves his hand, you have to stay still.”

After that, Gordon sped down the court, lofted a 3-pointer, watched it flush through the rim and began celebrating. The shot capped a half in which Mississippi State shot 60.9 percent from the floor.

“He’s a clutch player, very talented, athletic, strong,” Smith said. “We couldn’t stop him off the dribble all day.”

Nevertheless, there was still overtime to play. Rhodes, who picked up his fourth foul with 14:56 to go in the second half, was called for his fifth and final rule violation 18 seconds into the extra period.

After trading buckets, Randolph Morris tipped in one of his missed shots to give Kentucky an 82-81 lead. Morris, who finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds, was nearly nonexistent for much of the second half and overtime period.

Mississippi State immediately turned the ball over, but Meeks couldn’t convert a layup. The Bulldogs’ Reginald Delk grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Stewart on a fast break. Stewart came through, making his layup for an 83-82 lead.

They were the game-winning points.

“We had some momentum,” Smith said. “They were a little shaky with the ball-handling at the time. What was it, five seconds, 4.3 seconds? If we don’t have that violation, we’d probably win the game.”

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