Everything John Calipari said after UK basketball won on Reed Sheppard’s buzzer-beater

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The basketball gods taketh, and the basketball gods giveth.

Less than one week after Kentucky basketball lost on a buzzer-beater at LSU, the Wildcats won in the same fashion at Mississippi State.

Freshman guard Reed Sheppard — already enjoying one of the best seasons in all of college basketball — had a career-high 32 points, capped by a buzzer-beating floater with less than 1 second left, to secure a comeback 91-89 victory for the Cats over the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State’s Josh Hubbard had tied the game with a deep 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.

UK trailed by as many as 13 points early in the second half, and the Wildcats didn’t grab their first lead of the game until there were less than five minutes to go.

Sheppard scored 23 of his 32 points in the second half and added seven assists, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in a UK basketball performance for the ages.

Kentucky also got 21 points from fifth-year guard Antonio Reeves in the win, which secured a fourth straight regular-season series sweep of Mississippi State.

UK head coach John Calipari is now 20-1 all-time against the Bulldogs.

Kentucky won Tuesday night’s game despite being outrebounded by Mississippi State 34-27. UK also allowed the Bulldogs to make 11 3-pointers and shoot 44% from deep, both well above the home team’s season averages.

And while Mississippi State played bully ball for most of the game to establish its double-digit lead, Kentucky actually ended up with a 42-40 edge in points in the paint, spearheaded by the second-half charge that Sheppard led.

UK also won Tuesday’s game while shorthanded: Fifth-year forward Tre Mitchell missed his fourth straight game with an injury.

Afterward, Calipari met with media members at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville to discuss the latest development in an endlessly entertaining UK basketball season.

Here’s everything the UK head coach had to say after the SEC road win, which lifted Kentucky to 20-8 overall, 10-5 in league play and will give the Cats a chance to win three games in a row in SEC play for the first time this season when Arkansas comes to Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Question about Reed Sheppard’s performance.

Well, I was about to choke him when he threw the ball deep and (Mississippi State) got to the foul line. And I’m looking like, ‘Why would you do that?’ You’ve got two, three foul shooters, either one will make free throws, and you throw one deep...

He was trying to do the high school, I’m going to dribble it and dribble it and dribble it and all of a sudden he’s like, ‘Oh no.’ But, I told the team after, he had, he plays to win. He’s not playing not to lose.

There’ll be someone that (says), ‘Why didn’t you call a timeout?’ Because of what just happened. They can’t set up their defense, they had no timeouts. And you look at D.J. (Wagner) and say make something happen. And the ball ends up in Reed’s hands and he goes and makes it and we win the game.

So, I always have done that. I’m not calling a timeout in those situations. It was too early to foul a 3-point shooter. Can’t foul him with 16, 17 seconds to go. ‘You should have fouled anyway?’ Stop. Let me coach the team. You enjoy these games. It’s too early. He makes the 3, but we’ve got eight seconds.

So now we come down and end up winning the game. (Josh Hubbard) played unbelievable. He made some ridiculous plays. But, Robert (Dillingham) in the second half, Antonio (Reeves). It is so nice to have D.J. back. Like playing. Making shots.

You’ve got to understand, before he sat down he was a 40% 3-point shooter. He was doing all of the stuff. He came back. It takes time to get your rhythm back. And that’s, it’s taken him time.

But I’m not like, ‘Well, don’t play him anymore?’ Stop. And today was a really physical game, hard for Justin (Edwards) to be how he was the other day, because I needed him to rebound. And Adou (Thiero) mixed it up...

Our bigs did fine. (I’m) a little upset, out of a timeout I go ‘Ugo (Ugonna Onyenso), don’t foul. A layup will not hurt us. Do not foul.’ He fouled. I said, ‘Did you not hear?’ ‘I thought I could block it.’ I said ‘Don’t worry...’

We had some of those today. But, we walk out of here, that is not a first- or second-round NCAA game, you’re in the third round, that’s who you’re playing. They’re that good. They’re in the 20s in the NET. They beat Tennessee here. They beat Auburn here. This was a big-time win. We’re going to celebrate.

To beat (Mississippi State) and how they’re playing right now, big time.

Question about what Calipari told Sheppard after his late-game turnover.

I looked at him and said, ‘Did you lose your mind again?’ Do you know what I had to tell him each time? ‘Do not foul a 3-point shooter.’ Because you know he does that. But he blocked one from a distance that basically crated a gap if we were to rebound it, there were two rebounds...

This will be a tape, the good news is I know the ending so I can watch it and it’ll be a bit easier to watch. But I’ll be mad at some of the stuff.

Look, we’re the youngest team in the country. This is the kind of stuff that happens. But they all play to win. Robert had two turnovers... You turned it over. I’d rather you shoot every ball, don’t ever pass. Just shoot. And he came back in, makes a 3, has an assist, makes a layup.

And again, some of them I say, ‘Why would you have taken Antonio out?’ Because my gut told me to. And I went with my gut. And then I put him back in. And he makes free throws. These guys, they’re all fighting to win and doing what they do.

Question about Calipari telling ESPN at halftime that his team would be fine despite being down eight points.

Because I knew how well they were playing and we were still in the game.

We could have been down 20. And you know, again the start of the half (we go down) 13, timeout, go in, go in, go in. Not doing it. Now, we played through from there.

But look guys, I’m coaching a young team. You take responsibility for their failures. Because they’re too young. You also make sure they know ‘I believe in you, but I’ve got to win this game.’ I believe in you, but we’ve got to win.

So if you’re not playing well, it doesn’t mean I don’t believe in you, but we;ll worry about that later. And you just stick with guys as long as you can, which is what I do.

Question about what winning this game will mean for Kentucky.

Well, we’ll be alright. Look, we’ve lost a couple of these.

‘But you lost!’ We lost a couple just like this. And now you win one. It evens out over the season... I’m hoping there, down the road a little bit, that we get one.

You remember Aaron? His 3. We lost a bunch of games, You remember all the games we lost and Brandon Knight, all of a sudden his missed five game winners. And then he made three or four or five game winners. Just stick with these guys. We’ve got good players, good guys.

And that (Mississippi State) is a good team. They’ve got breakdown guys. I’ll be honest, they’re kind of built for the tournament, too. Why? Because they’ve got a couple guys that can just go get baskets. And they’ve got some size. I’m just happy we’re done playing them.

Question about D.J. Wagner showing patience on the final play of the game to kick the ball out to eventually lead to Sheppard’s winning shot.

I said after the game to the team, ‘Isn’t it nice to have D.J. back?’ (To) have him back. He makes that 3 in the corner. He makes another 3. Again, he gets in trouble when he makes his mind up, what he’s going to do before he goes.

And then there’s three guys and he goes anyway. No. They’re there? Go, pull it back. He’s learning. You know, he’s learning. And that’s all part of the process. But I want you to know, he was shooting 40% from the 3-point line before he stepped out because of the injury. 40%. And then he comes back, he can’t make a shot and nobody understands why...

He didn’t touch a basketball for two-and-a-half weeks. It’s going to take him some time. He’s still not all the way back. But he’s getting to where we’re all really confident with him in the game.

Question about Sheppard’s performance as a freshman in a road environment.

Well, we had to make some 3s to stay in the game. So we were running stuff to make some 3s in the first half. He made a bunch. They went zone (and) he took one, a 40-footer.

Like I looked at him, ‘Are you s******* me? Like why would you do that? And so, I said I hate to tell you not to, but come on. And then we put him in the middle of the zone and he makes the right play and...

He’s Steady Eddie. Sometimes his reactions to stuff, he’s trying to steal every ball. Trying to do crazy, he’s in the back of the (interview) room, that’s why I’m saying it.

No, to make that play, and not be fazed by it, his focus was on making the basket. It’s incredible.

Question about a scoreboard graphic with less than five minutes to go urging Mississippi State fans to not rush the court.

Oh, I wish I had seen it. In 1992, we’re playing in the NIT, I’m at UMass, and we’re playing Siena. And we’re down three. And there’s 3.6 seconds to go. They get on the mic and say, ‘The buses are going to leave for (Madison Square) Garden on this day at this time.’ My team goes, ‘What?’

We make a 3 and beat them in overtime. And one of my guys goes ‘What time are those buses leaving?’ So I’ve been in those situations. I did not see it, though.

Question about Tre Mitchell’s injury recovery progress.

I think so. He’ll practice a couple days and let’s see where he is.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks to his players during Tuesday’s game against Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss. Ryan C. Hermens/rhermens@herald-leader.com
Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks to his players during Tuesday’s game against Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss. Ryan C. Hermens/rhermens@herald-leader.com

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