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Five things you need to know from the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats’ 82-74 overtime win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in SEC men’s basketball at Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington on Tuesday night:
1. Kellan Grady to the rescue. Having lost a 45-29 second-half lead and wound up in overtime, Kentucky was wobbling.
Rising to meet a dire moment was Grady, the super-senior, graduate transfer from Davidson.
With the game tied at 72 entering the OT, Grady ripped off eight points to save the Cats from a distressing defeat.
First, Grady broke the tie by driving the baseline from the right and scoring on a reverse layup.
After MSU’s marvelous Iverson Molinar answered with a driving layup of his own, Grady had a cold-blooded answer.
He drained a three-pointer with 2:21 left to put Kentucky ahead to stay, 77-74. At the time he rose to attempt the shot, Grady was 2-for-9 in the game on three-point attempts.
Following an airball three-point try by MSU forward D.J. Jeffries, Grady went back to work.
As the shot clock creeped under five seconds, Grady rose again to attempt a trey.
This one, too, found the bottom of the net and Grady had shot Kentucky to safety.
It turns out, there is something to be said for veteran moxie under game-deciding pressure.
2. Another stellar Oscar Tshiebwe performance. In a season of remarkable performances, Oscar Tshiebwe topped himself again.
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound product of the Democratic Republic of Congo went for “a double double-double” — 21 points and 22 rebounds.
It was Tshiebwe’s fifth game of 2021-22 with at least 20 rebounds. It was his seventh game with at least 20 points.
This was his first contest with at least 20 points and 20 boards.
Making his showing even more impressive, Tshiebwe briefly left the game and went to the UK locker room. When he returned, he appeared to be limping slightly.
Tshiebwe now has 14 double-doubles. That moves him past Morehead State star Johni Broome and into sole possession of third in NCAA Division I in double-doubles.
Utah Valley’s Fardaws Aimaq (17) and North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (15) are first and second.
3. MSU nemesis Dontaie Allen. Last season, the ex-Pendleton County star tormented Mississippi State.
In UK’s SEC-opening 78-73 overtime victory over the Bulldogs in Starkville, Allen hit eight of 13 shots, seven of 11 treys and had 23 points and four rebounds.
Allen did it again to MSU in the SEC Tournament, making eight of 15 shots, six of 13 treys, and again scoring 23 points in a 74-73 defeat that ended the Kentucky season.
Alas, this year, clock has not been as plentiful for Allen, Kentucky’s 2019 Mr. Basketball.
Entering the Mississippi State game, Allen had scored only 36 points all year and made a chilly 13 of 45 shots, six of 32 three-pointers.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari gave Allen 18 minutes against the team that he thrived against last season.
Allen did not score 20 points, but he did, arguably, play his best, most active game of the season.
The UK redshirt sophomore brought Rupp Arena to its feet with a ferocious follow dunk with 7:56 left in the first half.
A little more than a minute later, Allen forced a jump ball call when he blocked a transition layup attempt by MSU star Molinar.
Just 1:26 before halftime, Allen swished a three-point shot from the left corner. Even Calipari hopped in excitement at seeing Allen’s shot go in.
Alas, not even the sight of Mississippi State maroon could snap Allen fully out of what has been a season-long shooting slump.
He finished 2-for-6 on field goals, 1-for-5 on treys.
4. State’s familiar faces. Thanks to the transfer portal, Mississippi State’s roster is stocked with several names highly familiar to Kentucky fans.
In Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, they had a mixed showing.
Former UK recruiting commit D.J. Jeffries, a transfer from Memphis, was booed by the Kentucky student section everytime he touched the ball. Jeffries made only one of six shots and finished with five points and four rebounds.
Ex-North Carolina big man Garrison Brooks had 11 points and five rebounds.
One-time Michigan State guard Rocket Watts, slowed this season by a hip injury, turned in a good 17 minutes. He made three of six shots, one of four treys, and hit both of his foul shots for nine points.
5. The Magnificent Molinar. When Mississippi State ended Kentucky’s season in last year’s SEC Tournament, MSU guard Iverson Molinar was the primary culprit, hitting eight of 10 shots, two of four treys and finishing with 21 points.
If anything, the 6-3, 190-pound product of Panama City, Panama, was even better Tuesday night.
Molinar had 30 points, 22 in the second half and overtime. He missed all three of his three-point tries, but confounded UK with an array of step-back jumpers and electric drives to the basket.
For whatever reason, the Mississippi State guard doesn’t get a lot of attention. But he is one of the best guards in the SEC.