LEXINGTON, Ky. – Playing on Senior Night in Memorial Coliseum, Kentucky seniors Evelyn Akhator and Makayla Epps had huge efforts as No. 22/RV Wildcats upset No. 3/2 Mississippi State 78-75 in overtime on Thursday night.
Epps made what turned out to be the winning play with eight seconds remaining, rebounding an Akhator miss and sticking it back in to give Kentucky a 77-75 lead. MSU turned the ball over on its ensuing possession, giving Kentucky the ball with just 3.1 seconds remaining. Maci Morris converted one-of-two free throws with 1.8 seconds left to make it 78-75. Mississippi State’s mid-court shot as time expired was off the mark, and the Wildcats claimed the win.
Akhator had 27 points and 16 rebounds in the game for the Wildcats, while Epps had 22 points and five assists.
For Akhator, the senior from Lagos, Nigeria, it was her 15th double-double of the season and the 28th of her two-year career at UK. It was also the eighth time in her career that she has reached the 20-point scoring plateau.
Kentucky (20-8, 11-4 SEC) forced Mississippi State into 22 turnovers, and scored 16 points off of those miscues. The Wildcats only turned the ball over nine times, and MSU got eight points off of the Kentucky mistakes.
Taylor Murray was the third Wildcat in double figures, scoring 14 points in the game. Murray also had two assists, two rebounds and two steals.
The Wildcats outscored the Bulldogs 42-28 in the paint, despite an MSU size advantage that led to 11 blocked shots by the Bulldogs. Mississippi State hit 26-of-54 (48.1 percent) of its shots, while Kentucky was 28-of-68 (41.2 percent) from the floor.
Mississippi State (27-2, 13-2) built a lead early in the first quarter, outscoring Kentucky 10-2 over the game’s first five minutes. While the Bulldogs hit four of their first five shots, Kentucky hit just one of its first six. But the Wildcats rallied late in the quarter, and a three-point play by Morris with eight seconds left in the quarter cut the lead to just one, 19-18. That would be the score at the end of the first period.
Kentucky took its first lead in the second quarter when freshman Jaida Roper connected on a short jumper to give the Cats a 20-19 lead. But it was short-lived, as the Bulldogs scored on their next possession to regain the lead at 21-20. The Wildcats would regain the lead at 26-25 on an Epps layup. With Kentucky leading 30-28 at 53 seconds left in the half, Blair Schaefer hit a three-pointer from the corner, giving MSU a 31-30 lead, which would be the halftime score.
Epps scored the first eight points of the third quarter, allowing Kentucky to build its biggest lead at 38-31. But Mississippi State responded with an 11-2 run to take a 42-40 advantage late in the period. Makenzie Cann hit a three-pointer with 43 seconds left in the period to give Kentucky a 43-42 lead, but MSU got a basket from Teaira McCowan to take a 44-43 lead after three quarters. Epps scored 10 of Kentucky’s 13 points in the quarter.
The fourth quarter was tight early, with neither team leading by more than three points. After Mississippi State grabbed a 48-45 lead, Kentucky scored seven of the game’s next eight points to take a three-point lead of its own at 52-49.
Kentucky eventually built the lead to 64-60 with just 1:12 remaining when Epps connected on a jumper. But Mississippi State would rally to tie the game at 67-67 on a Morgan William jumper with 11 seconds remaining. The Wildcats got one last chance, but Akhator’s shot was blocked, and the teams headed for overtime.
In overtime, Kentucky built a quick three-point lead behind Akhator, and the Wildcats kept that lead until Victoria Vivians hit a pair of free throws with 1:23 left to give the Bulldogs a 75-73 lead. Those would be the last points MSU would score in the game.
Vivians led Mississippi State with 27 points, and William added 20.
Kentucky returns to action on Sunday when the Wildcats visit No. 7 South Carolina in Columbia. Coliseum. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. ET and the television network will either be ESPN2 or ESPNU.