NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Mississippi State

No. 16 Kentucky escaped a challenging trip to Mississippi State with a 91-89 win thanks to a last-second runner from Reed Sheppard on Tuesday. The Wildcats trailed for nearly the entire game but took charge in the final minutes and left the sold-out, white-out crowd in Starkville, Mississippi, stunned as they saw a potential top-25 win slip away. 

Sheppard was the star of the night, leading Kentucky in points (32), rebounds (5) and assists (7) in addition to hitting the game-winning bucket. When he first released the shot it seemed that it was a true buzzer-beater, but official review left 0.5 seconds on the clock for Mississippi State to run what would be an unsuccessful attempt at matching Sheppard's game-winner. 

Sheppard collected his 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field with a perfect 6-for-6 showing at the line, but he was also a key piece of Kentucky's defensive stops in the second half. For the game, Sheppard finished with two blocks and two steals, but it was him forcing a turnover in the game's final sequence that put the icing on a potentially defining performance for the Wildcats. 

Kentucky entered the game as an underdog according to the oddsmakers, so while it was a top-20 team facing an unranked team losing would not have been an "upset" in the truest sense. Mississippi State led for 34:18 of game time in total, with a halftime lead of eight points that stretched all the way out to 13 in the early stages of the second half. But the fact that Kentucky was not only able to charge back but finish the job speaks to how John Calipari's team is rounding into a form that's more suitable for March. It's one thing to blow out Alabama at home on a Saturday, but to follow that up with a gutsy win in a hostile environment in Starkville three days later says Kentucky might be trustworthy to win multiple quality games in a row in postseason play. 

The loss will sting for Mississippi State, which was projected as a No. 9 seed, but on the NCAA Tournament bubble, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm,  on the bubble clearly let a quality win slip away that could have impacted seeding in the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. 

MSU freshman guard Josh Hubbard was electric with a game-high 34 points, The most by a Mississippi State player in an SEC game since at least 1996-97, and Tolu Smith was a problem inside with his double-double performance of 21 points and 10 rebounds.