LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Antwain Barbour’s patience during a season-long shooting slump paid off.
Barbour, a senior backup, made four 3-point shots while Erik Daniels had a career-best 24 points inside to lead No. 5 Kentucky past Mississippi 71-61 Wednesday night.
It was the 800th Southeastern Conference victory for Kentucky, college basketball’s winningest program.
Barbour had made just 1-of-13 shots beyond the arc in Kentucky’s first 15 games. But he said he never gave up on himself.
“I’ve always been patient, and patience is a key,” he said. “I’ve never lost confidence. You have to stay confident, and coach continued to show confidence in me.”
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said Barbour gave a needed spark as the Wildcats held off a series of second-half Mississippi rallies.
“I’m glad to see Antwain make the open shot,” Smith said. “That will be good for us and him.”
Mississippi coach Rod Barnes said the Rebels were focused on stopping Gerald Fitch and Chuck Hayes. That often left Barbour open on the wing, and he took advantage.
“Antwain was big,” Barnes said. “We didn’t want to lose the game to Fitch or Hayes. We just picked the wrong man tonight.”
Barbour finished with 12 points, one short of his career high. His final 3-pointer put Kentucky ahead 64-56 with 2:10 left and stymied Mississippi’s final rally.
Aaron Harper led Mississippi (10-7, 2-4) with 19 points, Kendrick Fox added 16 off the bench and Justin Reed had 15. Fox was 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
Fitch added 14 for Kentucky (14-2, 4-1 SEC). Hayes had nine rebounds for Kentucky and a career-high five blocked shots.
“Chuck Hayes is an all-conference player,” Barnes said. “He’s physical, tough and does all the dirty work. People think about dunks and 3s, but he’s the heart and soul of the team.”
Daniels, a senior, was 9-of-12 from the field and 6-of-8 from the free throw line for Kentucky.
“The guys got me the ball in great position, and the shots were falling,” he said. “You have nights like that sometimes.”
Daniels said his career-best performance was secondary to Kentucky keeping pace in the conference.
“The most important thing is we got a win,” he said. “Getting a career high wouldn’t have meant anything if we’d lost the game.”
Reed hit six straight points to pull the Rebels to 53-50 with 5:27 left.
“We thought with four or five minutes to go, you couldn’t get in a better position than that,” Barnes said.
But the Rebels got no closer than three points. The Wildcats pulled ahead 61-53 on Hayes’ layin and free throw with 2:56 left. Barbour followed with his last 3-pointer and Daniels slammed a dunk to make it 66-58 with 1:21 left.
The teams traded leads for much of an error-plagued first half.
The Wildcats took an early 10-4 lead after a Daniels made a layup and free throw. Mississippi countered with an 11-3 spurt, capped when Fox made a pair of 3-pointers to give the Rebels their first lead at 15-13.
Mississippi twice opened five-point leads—its biggest of the game—on baskets by Reed, the last putting the Rebels ahead 27-22.
Daniels scored Kentucky’s last nine points of the half to tie the game at 29.
Fitch hit a 3-pointer after the break to make it 32-29, and the Wildcats never trailed after that.
Kentucky was 23-of-45 (51.1 percent) from the floor and 8-of-19 from beyond the arc. Mississippi finished 22-of-50 (44 percent) and was 9-of-17 from 3-point range.
The Wildcats made 17-of-22 free throws, while Mississippi hit just 8-of-16.