MSU stops Kentucky

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Each time Jarvis Varnado sent a Kentucky shot back where it came from, he could feel Mississippi State gaining strength Tuesday night.

Varnado finished with a triple-double that included 10 blocks in a 69-64 win over Kentucky that helped the Bulldogs to a 3-0 start in Southeastern Conference play and their seventh straight win.

“I can feel my teammates get into it and the crowd get into it,” Varnado said. “It gets us pumped up to go make a stop on the defensive end.”

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Mississippi State (12-5) came up with just enough stops to edge past Kentucky (7-8, 1-1) after the Wildcats cut the Bulldogs’ lead to as little as three late. The win gave Mississippi State two straight wins over Kentucky for just the second time.

“Any time you can beat a Kentucky team it’s special,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “We have had to make some adjustments, but we are finding ways to win as a team.”

The Bulldogs, who came into the game as the nation’s leader in field goal percentage defense and No. 2 in blocks, are doing it with defense.

They built an 12-point lead over the Wildcats early in the second half, but had to hold on late after Kentucky held them without a field goal in the final 6:26.

Kentucky cut the lead to three twice in the final minutes, but Mississippi State made 13 of 18 free throws in the final 3:08 to seal the game.

“We knew we had lost a couple of closer games like that at the beginning of the year,” guard Phil Turner said. “We felt like as a team we trusted each other. We knew that was our victory.”

Jamont Gordon finished with 24 points and Varnado, the nation’s leading shot blocker, finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. It was just the third triple-double in school history and the first to include double-digit blocks. Varnado has had 10 or more blocks three times this season.

“He changes that game around the rim,” Stansbury said. “That is for sure. Any time you earn a triple-double is impressive, and to do that with blocked shots is even more impressive.”

Charles Rhodes added 12 points for Mississippi State and Turner added 11.

Behind Varnado’s outstretched arm, Mississippi State pulled away from Kentucky in the first half with a 20-8 run that helped them to a 32-27 halftime lead. But the Wildcats rallied late behind Joey Crawford and Ramel Bradley.

They helped Kentucky get as close as 67-64 on Crawford’s 3-pointer in the final seconds. But Barry Stewart sealed the game with two free throws.

Bradley finished with 22 points and Crawford had 20. But Varnado was instrumental in shutting down Kentucky’s leading scorer, Patrick Patterson, who finished with 10 points and was ineffective under the basket.

“Our margin for error is small,” Kentucky coach Billie Gillespie said. “We have to have production from a lot of folks. As you get into conference play seniors end up having to shoulder most of the load. I think there is a bit of a maturity factor there.”

Turner said the Bulldogs were ready for everything the Wildcats could come up with.

“(The coaches) had it down to an exact science,” Turner said. “We knew what they were going to run every single time. All we did was just defend and listen to what the scouting report said.”