Expectations were high for the 2010 Bulldogs. Coming off a NCAA Tournament appearance and SEC Tournament championship in 2009, MSU returned arguably their top 9 players from that team. Although State won the SEC West with a 9-7 record and had a 21-10 overall record, it was widely recognized that they would have to win the SEC Tourney to make it to the big dance.
Kentucky had been in the Top 5 all year. They had an amazingly talented starting 5, all of which were selected in the 1st round of the 2010 NBA draft. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were especially daunting, and had the Cats 31-2 coming into the game. Earlier in the year, UK narrowly escaped Starkville with a 81-75 overtime win.
Mississippi State pushed past Florida and Vanderbilt the first two days of the tourney while Kentucky beat Alabama and thumped Tennessee 74-45. It all came down to beating this great Kentucky team to win the SEC Tournament and make it to the NCAAs.
From the outset, the game was back and forth. Neither team ever got a lead greater than five and Mississippi State gave all they had to stay with such a talented UK group. Jarvis Varnardo had 18 points, 9 rebounds and Ravern Johnson poured in 20 including a big time three that put State up 62-57 with only 2:28 to play.
After Barry Stewart sank two free throws to make it 64-61, Stansbury decided to foul Kentucky’s Eric Bledsoe, and he came to the line with :4.9 to go. Bledsoe made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second; Kentucky got the rebound and John Wall missed a three point attempt, but Cousins put it back up and in for the tie.
Still there was overtime, but MSU was without Stewart because the foul on Bledsoe was his 5th. The game was tied at 71 until John Wall hit a 3-pointer with :26 left. The Dawgs couldn’t score on the offensive end and Cousins secured the game at the free throw line. Riley Benock’s last second three made the margin a fitting one point.
After the game, UK coach John Calipari said the Wildcats should have lost that game. I agree. It was by sheer luck that they did. And despite a 23-11 record, a SEC Western division championship, and taking the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament to overtime twice, the selection committee decided Mississippi State was not worthy of their tournament.