Reed Sheppard wasn’t going to let Kentucky lose on Tuesday night at Mississippi State. Despite strong starts to both halves from Mississippi State and a 43-35 half-time deficit, No. 16 Kentucky leaves Starkville with a 91-89 win thanks to Sheppard’s heroics.

UK improves to 20-8 and 10-5. It’s a Quad 1 win, further boosting the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament resume.

Here are 3 quick takeaways from Kentucky’s win over MSU:

The Reed Sheppard game

It was only fitting that Reed Sheppard made Kentucky’s last-second go-ahead shot and sealed the win with a steal on MSU’s final heave. Sheppard was the MVP of Kentucky’s hard-fought win in Starkville.

Sheppard led Kentucky in points (32), rebounds (5) and assists (7). Unofficially, he also led the Wildcats in highlights.

Sheppard led the way for Kentucky in the first with 9 points. The Wildcats trailed 43-35 at the break, and Sheppard led the comeback with 23 second-half points.

Antonio Reeves also had a double-figure second-half effort, scoring 14 points in the final 20 minutes to finish with 21 points for the game.

Well into the second half, this looked like it would be remembered as the Josh Hubbard game. The Mississippi State freshman deserves recognition, even in a losing effort. He was the game’s high scorer with 34 points after only scoring 3 in MSU’s January loss to the Wildcats at Rupp Arena.

Effective use of the 3 ball and attacking the paint while getting to the line

A big reason Mississippi State jumped out in front in the first half was the Bulldogs’ ability to score in the paint. MSU won the first-half battle 22-12.

Kentucky turned some heads with 7 3-pointers in the first half. The Cats were 7-of-18 beyond the arc in the first half, while the Bulldogs went 5-of-9 from 3-point range.

Things evened out in the second half. Kentucky scored 30 points in the paint, besting MSU’s 18. UK’s 3-point shooting cooled to 3-of-12, while Mississippi State was 6-of-16.

Free throws were arguably the biggest difference in the second half. UK was 0-of-2 at the line in the first half. In the second half, the Cats made all 15 free-throw attempts. MSU only had 7 free-throw attempts, making 6.

Kentucky still in SEC race, trending upward for NCAA Tournament

Kentucky is on the outside looking in, but with three games to go, the Wildcats are still in the race for the regular-season SEC title and top seed in the SEC Tournament.

Tennessee and Alabama are tied at 11-3, two games ahead of UK (10-5). Kentucky is tied with Florida (9-5) in the loss column, and one game back of Auburn (10-4) and South Carolina (10-4). The Cats will be watching scores in the Auburn-Tennessee, South Carolina-Texas A&M, Alabama-Ole Miss and Florida-Missouri games on Wednesday.

Saturday also figures to be a big day for the SEC standings. John Calipari’s squad will be focused on Arkansas, but fans are sure to be following the outcomes of Florida-South Carolina, Auburn-Mississippi State and Tennessee-Alabama.

As far as the NCAA Tournament, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Kentucky as a No. 5-seed trending upward before Tuesday night’s win. If UK can close strong, it might be able to move up from the notoriously dangerous 5-12 first-round matchup.

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