Kentucky was up by 15 at halftime, but John Calipari knew Mississippi State wasn’t dead yet. He told his team he expected the Bulldogs to make two runs in the second half and he was right. Thankfully, the Cats survived them both — but just barely.
“Believe me, at halftime, I said, ‘They’ve got two runs in them,” Calipari said. “They’re going to come after us twice. We’ve got to withstand those two runs.’ That’s what I said at halftime. We withstood the first one at the start of the half when they were scoring every basket and we scored too. The other one, we held onto the rope and our hands are bleeding right now. Let me tell you. We just held on.”
“We talked about it at halftime,” Keldon Johnson told reporters. “We knew they were going to make a run. They’re at home, they were playing with confidence. Once they made that run we knew we’d just have to come together even more, stay focused stay together and just react to it.”
Kentucky’s 18-point lead was whittled to one with 8:41 left, but the Cats scored six straight points to push the lead back to seven. When Mississippi State cut it to four with three and a half minutes left, Tyler Herro hit a big three to give Kentucky a little bit of breathing room.
“Big three by Tyler Herro,” Cal said. “How about that shot, that three? That was a dagger.”
Calipari always says he’d rather learn from a win than a loss, and he’s already using this scare as a lesson, delivering some tough love in the postgame locker room.
“I told them it’s a great win. Believe me, I went right around the room. I said, ‘If you want me to tell you everything is all good, it isn’t.’ I went right down each guy. Not mean, screaming, cussing. I wasn’t. I said, ‘You’re here because you want me to keep it real. Well, this is real. You won a game and it’s unbelievable how you finished.’ We’re getting better at finishing games off. We really are. How to play down the stretch to get fouled, make a shot, what we need to do defensively, but there are spells in the game where our decision making appears to be, I’m going to do this play vs. what are we trying to do. We ran a play and a couple different times where guys broke off and did their own thing. We’re not that kind of team.”