Any time the calendar turns to a new year, change and resolutions abound as people work to put the previous year behind them in hopes of a better one ahead. And after going 1-6 in 2020, that mindset was certainly present amongst the Kentucky men’s basketball program as they approached their SEC opener against Mississippi State on just the second day of 2021. But thanks to a historic performance from Kentucky-native Dontaie Allen, the Cats finally found themselves back in the win column as the buzzer sounded, knocking off the Bulldogs 78-73 in double overtime and ending the first six-game losing streak in the John Calipari era.
For much of regulation, the game played out the way it had all season: a close contest at the half before the opposing team utilized an offensive spurt to stretch the lead out on the Wildcats. But as Calipari has done countless other times throughout his tenure at Kentucky, a pair of technical fouls leading to his ejection proved to be all the spark his young team needed. After Calipari walked off the court with the Bulldogs holding a 55-46 advantage, Dontaie Allen and company caught fire, using a 15-6 run over the final 9:04 to tie things up at 61 and send it to overtime. It would take another overtime before the Cats could come out on top, but the emergence of Allen ended up being the offensive firepower Kentucky needed to get over the hump.
In 32 minutes off the bench, Allen shot a blistering 8-13 from the field (7-11 3FG) and scored 17 of his game-high 23 points after Calipari’s ejection. The Falmouth, Ky. native also tallied a season-high five rebounds in the winning effort.
“I’m so happy for him (Allen),” Calipari said. “I said before the game to the staff, ‘I hope he goes big because we need a win.’ We needed a win. And he changed us offensively because he spread the court.”
“To all the kids, if there’s kids listening in the state, anywhere, it comes down to work,” Allen said of his performance. “I know I say it a lot and it might seem cliché, but if you put in the work you can do some great things.”
After failing to hit a field goal in the two games prior, Olivier Sarr stepped up big once again, recording 14 points and 12 rebounds to go along with a pair of blocks and a steal in 37 minutes of action. Devin Askew continued to step up in the absence of freshman Terrence Clarke (who did not play Saturday due to an ankle injury), tallying 11 points, six assists and four rebounds. Brandon Boston Jr. was the final Wildcat to eclipse double figures, scoring 11 points on 4-13 from the floor. Even though he only scored four points, Lance Ware was a difference-maker once again, grabbing 12 rebounds and a pair of assists to aid the Cats in the winning effort.
As a team, Kentucky shot a season-best 11-21 from three-point range (52.4%) and 41.6% from the floor thanks in large part to 17 total assists. They forced the Bulldogs into 16 turnovers and held them to just 37.7% from the field.
With the win, Kentucky improves to 2-6 on the season and 1-0 in SEC play. They’ll be back in action Tuesday at home against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Tipoff is set for 7:00 pm on the SEC Network.