STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP)—A little good fortune turned a potentially crushing defeat into a thrilling win for No. 5 Kentucky.
Erik Daniels grabbed a tipped desperation pass out of the air and laid it in as time expired to give Kentucky a 67-66 victory over No. 20 Mississippi State on Tuesday night.
The previously unbeaten Bulldogs (13-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half, taking a 66-65 lead with a minute left on Branden Vincent’s putback.
“This could have been devastating,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “But this win will give us a belief in ourselves.”
Winsome Frazier and Timmy Bowers both missed the front end of 1-and-1s in the final 30 seconds for Mississippi State, giving Kentucky (11-1, 2-0) a shot to win it in the final seconds.
“We should have made them free throws, and we would have had the game locked up” said Frazier, who had nine points and was a big part of the late run.
Cliff Hawkins inbounded the ball from the side with 2.5 seconds left and tried to throw a lob to Chuck Hayes underneath. Mississippi State’s Lawrence Roberts reached for the ball with two hands, but Hayes appeared to tip it away and Daniels never had an easier game-winning basket.
“I got lucky,” Daniels said. “I saw the ball the whole time it was in the air. I’m always looking for the easy baskets.”
Gerald Fitch had 23 points and five 3-pointers, and Daniels finished with 16 points for the Wildcats, who have won 19 straight regular-season games in the SEC.
Bowers led the Mississippi State comeback and scored 20 points, while Roberts had 15 points and 14 rebounds.
The Wildcats have won four straight, the last three against ranked teams and the last two against opponents who came in with perfect records.
Kentucky handed No. 23 Vanderbilt its first loss on Saturday.
Mississippi State, off to its best start, has lost six straight against ranked teams. The Bulldogs also had their 14-game home winning streak snapped, the longest in school history.
Kentucky appeared in control when Fitch hit a 3 with 9:40 left to make it 54-40.
But Mississippi State gave the third-largest crowd in Humphrey Coliseum history a charge with consecutive 3-pointers by Bowers to cut it to 56-51 with 6:44 left.
The Wildcats calmly responded with a dunk by Kelenna Azubuike and a 3 by Hawkins to bump it back to 61-52.
The Bulldogs surged again.
Bowers hit a 3 and Roberts and Frazier got consecutive hoops on offensive rebounds to make it 63-61. Another putback by Roberts gave the Bulldogs’ their first lead of the game with 1:55 left, 64-63.
“We did a good job of keeping the pressure on them,” Roberts said.
Azubuike made it 65-64 with a jumper and Bowers went for another 3 and missed.
Again, the Bulldogs crashed the boards with Vincent getting the hoop.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t seal it and Kentucky earned Smith his 299th career victory.
“Sometimes I’d rather be lucky than good,” Smith said. “But you have to be good enough to put yourself in position to get those breaks.”