(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
The Greatest Tradition In College Basketball™ has been eliminated from its own event, the SEC Tournament, before the sun set on the Thursday slate of games in Nashville. The Gold Standard™ will be back home in Lexington before the tournament’s top four seeds–Alabama, Arkansas, LSU and Tennessee—play their first tournament games.
An unfathomable situation before the “only coronavirus can stop us” season began, it is reality after your University of Kentucky Wildcats lost to Mississippi State, the tournament’s No. 9 seed, in the noon Thursday game of the first session of the first full day of SEC fun. I can’t even believe I am typing those words for Big Blue Nation to read: Your University of Kentucky Wildcats lost to Mississippi State, the tournament’s No. 9 seed, in the noon Thursday game.
“We got punked,” John Calipari said afterward in his postgame press conference following the 73-74 defeat. His truest statement all year, Kentucky did get punked and, sadly, it will be the lasting memory of one of the worst seasons in the storied history of the program. 2020-21 ends with only nine wins, no NCAA Tournament hope whatsoever, and a loss to a 14-13 team from Starkville, Mississippi.
It sucks. There’s no way to sugar coat it. There’s also no way for me to get out of writing this game’s edition of the 10 Takeaways, so let’s just get this recap over with so we can all move on from what better be an anomaly of a basketball season.
1. Mississippi State completely manhandled Kentucky inside.
One team showed up for a fight, the other showed up to get pushed around, and it was very clear from the start that Kentucky was in trouble. Things were so bad early in the game that Mississippi State, the team that showed up for a fight, had a 14-rebound advantage at halftime. Halftime!
John Calipari said, “They were plus-15 rebounds. Are you kidding me? I’ve never seen that. Division I against Division III maybe, but I’ve never seen 15. Are you going to be down 30 rebounds? They’re going to out-rebound you 15 to 20? I never heard of such a thing.”
It was better in the second half when Kentucky was trying to mount its improbable comeback, but the Bulldogs still won the glass in the end by a staggering 46-30 margin.
“When you talk about how they scored, they probably scored seven, eight baskets by just offensive rebounding, where we just couldn’t come up with balls.”
Lance Ware was a big part of the problem. The reserve freshman was forced into a significant increase in minutes due to two first half fouls for both Olivier Sarr and Isaiah Jackson, and he was abused on seemingly every possession. To be fair, Sarr and Jackson weren’t much better when they were in, but the Ware experiment was not working at all.
2. UK’s leading scorer scored zero points.
Kentucky lacked a go-to scorer all season, but the team’s leading scorer, BJ Boston, has consistently gotten his 12 points per game to at least give a little bit of a bump to the scoring column each game.
Boston scored zero in the SEC Tournament loss. A former lottery pick out of high school in the eyes of draft analysts, Boston went 0-for-4 from the field and played only 23 minutes in the game, maybe his last as a Wildcat.
Or maybe not his last? His one-game postseason NBA audition will only further hurt his stock. We’ll discuss that another time though. Right now all that matters is his goose egg in a must-win game.
3. Devin Askew offered nothing again.
Askew’s stat line includes zero points, one shot attempt, no free throw tries, no assists, no fouls, no turnovers and no blocks, only a steal thrown directly into his hands and one rebound. Those are numbers you see from a walk-on playing two minutes at the end of a game, not the ONE POINT GUARD on the team in 21 minutes of tournament basketball. Yet he still found his way into the game once Kentucky made it a game again in the second half. More on that in a moment.
4. This team can’t score from three feet in.
A problem all season long, Kentucky again struggled to complete the simple task of placing the ball through the rim when shooting from directly beneath or around the basket. In this one the Cats finished 6-for-15 on layups and missed one of two dunk tries, and everyone on the team is guilty.
5. This person, whoever they are, deserved better.
6. This game further proved John Calipari was clueless with this roster, the roster he constructed.
Jacob Toppin started and played seven minutes with no foul trouble. Devin Askew, known for being unplayable toward the end of games, checked in for the end of the game; coincidentally, UK struggled to score at the end of the game. Terrence Clarke hasn’t played since December so, sure, let’s throw him in as soon as possible because, again, the substitutions patterns seem to be drawn from a hat and it’s been that way all year.
We can’t expect Calipari to have all of the answers when his players clearly aren’t the caliber he’s used to, but some obvious adjustments weren’t made today and in many games all season.
7. The Final Four Minutes struck again.
Davion Mintz hit a 3-pointer to put Kentucky up five with four and a half minutes to go, completing a miraculous and exciting second half comeback when it looked like the season was dead. But then came that four-minute mark on the clock, the Grim Reaper for this Kentucky team all year, and they scored only once again before losing by one in the end. Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar scored eight points in that span.
How many times have we written the same story this year? Don’t answer that. We know it was a lot.
The last play was good look though. It was all you can ask for, especially after seeing some of the ways they botched late possessions in the regular season.
8. UK shot 58 percent from the free throw line as a team.
Want to lose? Struggle to hit half of the free ones. Kentucky was awarded 17 free looks from the line and missed seven of them.
9. Davion Mintz did all he could to carry Kentucky again.
While Kentucky’s three five-star freshmen combined for two points, Kentucky’s transfer from Creighton tried to put the team on his back like he has done many times before. Mintz hit four 3-pointers and had eight assists with zero turnovers and a couple of big rebounds when his teammates weren’t rebounding, but the help just wasn’t there from anyone else.
Anyone else except…
10. Dontaie Allen.
Everyone stand up and applaud Dontaie Allen for again going off against Mississippi State. If not for Allen’s six 3-pointers, Kentucky doesn’t even have a shot down the stretch. He and Mintz kept Kentucky alive with outside shooting, and fans can’t help but wonder what could’ve been if Allen had been given more opportunities earlier in the year.
Does he have plenty of weaknesses? Yes. Did he play poorly in his limited action in several games? Definitely. But Dontaie Allen played 30 minutes only twice all year, and scored 23 points both times. BJ Boston (who I think could’ve played well with Allen) averaged 30 minutes per game and never got 23 points in a game all season. Devin Askew averaged 30 minutes per game and never scored 15. You will never convince me that giving Allen some of their minutes (just some minutes) wasn’t best for everyone. But every time Allen gave up two points or passed up an open look, we heard about it in a press conference like he was the only one making mistakes. The entire team made mistakes. Everyone was flawed all year.
Other players on the team were given opportunity after opportunity when they too were giving up baskets or missing shots or playing losing basketball. If Allen had been given just a little bit more of a chance to get in a rhythm and play through some of his deficiencies, of which he has plenty, I’m of the belief the season would’ve been a little better (not great, but better than it was) and the fan base wouldn’t be as upset over the obvious favoritism against one of our own.
Maybe I’m an idiot and he wouldn’t have improved at all, but is that any worse than what we saw game after game after game from a nine-win team? He had the backcourt’s two highest scoring games all year, and played the least amount of minutes of the group.
It’s only fitting the season ended with him going off to prove he deserved more. I guess we’ll never know what he could’ve become if he hadn’t been benched for other players’ potential that never came to fruition.
I didn’t mean to end this with a Dontaie Allen rant, but there it is.
Now let’s go enjoy life away from the stresses of this season and Kentucky losing to Mississippi State, the tournament’s No. 9 seed, in the noon Thursday game of the SEC Tournament.