- Friday, March 9 2007 -
SEC Tournament (at Atlanta, GA)
Kentucky - 82 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Mississippi State - 84 (Head Coach: Rick Stansbury) - [Unranked]
|Richard Delk (*)||26||2||3||1||2||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||1||1||0||5|
|Reginald Delk (*)||24||2||6||0||3||0||0||0||3||3||0||1||0||1||3||4|
Halftime Score: Kentucky 34, Mississippi State 31
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Alabama 79 - 67|||||Villanova 67 - 58|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Freak Finish: Cats fall in wild contest
ATLANTA - Bobby Perry turned to a camera man under the goal standard and flashed a sly grin. Teammate Jodie Meeks had just iced the first of two potential game-sealing free throws with 5.1 seconds remaining in regulation to put Kentucky up three points on Mississippi State.
"He's money," Perry said.
Unfortunately for the Cats Meeks never got the opportunity to put the game away with a second free throw thanks to a lane violation call on Sheray Thomas. Seconds later Mississippi State's Jamont Gordon buried a three at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, where State scored the game-winning basket with 24.7 seconds remaining to steal an 84-82 victory in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome.
For UK it was a bitter ending to what looked like would go down as a sensational comeback from a 14-point deficit. Instead, the Cats have to regroup after another crushing loss in a long line of them.
"This is by far the toughest loss of the season," Perry said. "This was the tournament and we felt like had it won."
Even taking into account the peaks-and-valleys course of UK's season this game took the cake for strangest ending. The Cats roared back from a deep hole in the final 10 minutes of regulation, even taking the lead with 31.1 seconds remaining when Thomas tipped in a missed jumper by Joe Crawford. UK got the stop it has failed to earn all year when Crawford poked the ball away from Gordon but junior center Randolph Morris Ð who posted career highs in points and rebounds Ð clanked two free throws with 17.7 seconds left to give State another shot.
Once again UK appeared to lock up a close win when Crawford swatted Gordon's drive out of bounds and then Barry Stewart missed an open three from the top of the key, leading to Meeks' free throw attempts. Meeks, who scored 14 points in an exhausting 41 minutes, calmly buried the first and set up for the second.
That's when the scene went from entertaining to downright bizarre. As official J.B. Caldwell began to toss Meeks the ball Thomas backed off his spot on the lane at UK coach Tubby Smith's urging. Caldwell blew his whistle and appeared to signify an official timeout, sending State coach Rick Stansbury running to nearly midcourt. After a moment the officials then ruled Thomas committed a lane violation and gave the ball back to State.
"What happened was the ref had the ball and Coach told me to get off the line," Thomas said. "The ref passed the ball (to Meeks) and then I don't know. He said he wasn't going to call it and then they decided to call a violation."
Smith fell on the sword for the play, exonerating Thomas.
"I said to Sheray, 'Back up Sheray, go back!'" Smith said. "At the time I didn't see the official passing the ball so it was probably my fault for telling (Thomas) to move off the lane."
UK still could have closed out the game but instead of fouling a Bulldog player and sending them to the line where they could only get two points instead of the three needed to tie, UK allowed Gordon to take the inbounds pass and then hoist a three from just to the left of the top of the key over Perry. When the shot tore through the net Gordon held his shooting hand aloft, bounced three times and fell to the floor in celebration.
"When they called the lane violation we didn't have a timeout so they gave them the ball," Crawford, who scored 20 points, said. "We didn't have a game plan. We just wanted to force them into a tough shot. He hit it. As soon as it left his hand I knew it was good."
"There was no talk of (fouling)," Perry added. "We wanted to keep them in front of us. We knew Gordon is a great player we just wanted to get a good contest. I contested it."
Even with new life UK looked like it might still escape to the semifinals. Morris gave UK a three-point lead seconds into overtime but State scored five straight points to go up 81-79. Not willing to go quietly UK reclaimed an 82-81 lead with 1:18 remaining when Morris capped his night with a tip-in off a Crawford miss. UK created a turnover on State's ensuing possession and then found Meeks cutting to the basket but the freshman missed the lay-in and State's Stewart scored on a runout with 24.7 seconds left to take the lead.
Needing just a two for the win, UK opted against calling a timeout and Crawford bled the clock before having his driving attempt blocked in heavy traffic. Stewart hit one free throw to put the lead at two and UK advanced the ball to midcourt before calling a timeout with 3.1 seconds remaining.
Like it has all season, UK botched its final chance at victory when Perry's inbound pass to Crawford in the corner was swatted away.
"It was supposed to be a lob play to Randolph but they played great defense on that," Crawford said. "It would have been a really tough pass for Bobby to make. I didn't come to the ball."
With that, UK left the SEC Tournament without advancing to the Finals for the second straight season, the first time that had happened when the Cats were eligible to compete since the 1934 and 1936 tournaments (there was no tournament in 1935).
"This is something you just can't prepare for," Perry said. "I felt like we had the game won, then to get a call like that is heart-wrenching, heartbreaking, especially in the tournament. It's hard to swallow.
"It was just one of the most bizarre games I've ever seen."
Sheray Thomas gets tangled up with Dietric Slater
Randolph Morris (#33) bulls his way toward the goal
Ramel Bradley (#3) takes a fall