#2: SEC Championship Game in 1996 – Mississippi State 84 vs. Kentucky 73
The first thing I’ll say about this game is that Kentucky went on to win the 1996 National Championship. So they were a legitimate #1 team, it was late in the season and for the SEC Tournament Championship. Up to that point, Kentucky had won 20 of the 36 SEC Tournaments; the school with the second most was Alabama with six.
Since the SEC Tourney had been reinstated in 1979, MSU had a miserable 4-17 record. Even after winning the SEC regular season in 1991, State got beat by 17 points in the first round to Tennessee. So the fact that the Bulldogs were even in the Championship Game was a feat itself.
Kentucky was easily the nation’s best team. Their only loss had been to John Calipari’s UMass team (who UK would beat in the Final Four) in the second game of the season. They slammed through the SEC without a single team coming closer than 13 points; and that included a 74-56 thrashing at the Hump. They disposed of Florida and Arkansas by 24 and 20 points respectively in their first two game of the SEC Tourney. To say the Mississippi State was expected to lose the championship game would be an understatement.
Dontae Jones had a pretty good regular season averaging 13 PPG and 6 RPG but he steadily heated up in the SEC Tournament until he was on fire for this game. He had scored 16 against Auburn on Friday, then 20 against Georgia on Saturday, then 28 against Kentucky on Sunday. Needless to say he was the tournament MVP.
I still remember the half-time score, 43-38. It was amazing that State could be up on the super-powered Cats. Dampier’s dominating defense and Darryl Wilson’s 3-pointers kept MSU ahead and they pulled away for an 11 point win.
The victory secured Mississippi State’s first ever SEC Tournament Championship, and they did it over mighty Kentucky. Coming into the tourney State was a semi-bubble team, but after this they vaulted to a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Next: 1996 vs. Cincinnati