Date story was published: Thursday, January 16, 1986
Ed Davender's 15 points and overall court presence helped Kentucky beat Mississippi State 64-52 last night and claim sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference.
Davender's work and Richard Madison's off-the-bench shooting balanced the inside game of Kenny Walker as the Wildcats repelled repeated State rallies to claim their 13th victory in 15 games.
UK improved to 4-1 in the SEC, one-half game better than Auburn. Auburn, 3-1, plays at Alabama tonight.
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The other leader going into last night's play, Florida, lost 89-69 at Georgia to fall to 3-2.
State's sixth straight loss dropped the Bulldogs to 0-5 in the SEC and 3-11 overall. MSU trailed almost the entire game. But the Humphrey Coliseum crowd of 5,226, just half of capacity, got excited when the Bulldogs rallied to within one midway through the second half.
"Anytime you play on the road, it's a struggle no matter who you play in this conference," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "We played well. Like I said before, Mississippi State is the best last-place team in the country."
State's gamelong 2-1-2 zone defense choked off - and bruised - Walker inside. UK's star forward finished with 15 points and a black eye.
When Kentucky missed five straight perimeter shots, a 43-35 lead dwindled to 43-42 with 12:04 remaining.
Before freshman Greg Lockhart's two free throws cut the lead to one, capping an 8-0 State run, Sutton called time.
"I called time to settle our guys down," Sutton said. "We had to regain the momentum."
After Lockhart's free throws, State applied its first press of the game. UK was ready.
"He said if they pressed, to take it to them if we had the numbers," said Richard Madison, who did just that.
Madison hit a 10-foot bank shot - leaning into the last defender in State's 2-2-1 zone press as he shot - to put Kentucky ahead 45-42.
Asked if he had confidence the contested shot would fall, Madison said: "I never take a shot I don't think will go in."
Sutton applauded Madison's boldness. "We want to attack the press no matter what stage of the game," he said.
Then, Davender struck again, capping a glittering two-way performance. The sophomore guard swiped a pass at the top of the key and took off for a fast- break layup that put UK ahead 47-42 with 11:36 left.
The play capped Davender's 15-point effort and was one of his three steals.
Besides the steals, Davender held UK nemesis Tracy Taylor to fewer points (four) than turnovers (seven).
"I can't lie; this lifted my spirits up," Davender said.
He had made just 11 of 34 shots in UK's last three games. Last night Davender hit seven of 14.
"Maybe his defense got him going," Walker said of Davender. "He knew he had to play well because Tracy lit us up twice last season." Taylor had his two best scoring games against UK last season (18 and 17 points).
After Davender's steal and layup, the two teams stayed scoreless for the next three minutes.
UK committed turnovers on three straight trips downcourt. Walker was mugged inside, his goggles dislodged and his right eye blackened.
State missed two shots and committed three turnovers, a scoreless spell snapped when Chauncey Robinson's free throw cut UK's lead to 47-43 with 8:55 remaining.
After an exchange of points, Madison's two rainbows put UK ahead 53-45 with 6:31 remaining and marked the beginning of the end for State.
"I think Mississippi State can take some credit for disrupting Kentucky's zone offense," MSU coach Bob Boyd said, "but I didn't think Richard Madison could shoot from the wing the way he did."
The Bulldogs mounted another charge, closing to within six on Raymond Brown's fast-break slam.
MSU called time at that point with 4:41 remaining.
But the Bulldogs missed two short jumpers and the end was near.
"We weren't able to convert on offense the way you need to to beat a quality team like Kentucky," Boyd said. "But I think this was a pretty good game for us. We rebounded well (27-25 edge), the intensity was there and for the most part our concentration level was good."
Walker then hit from the lane at the other end, putting Kentucky ahead 55-47.
"It's the mark of a good basketball team," Sutton said of Kentucky's ability to hold off the Bulldogs.
Davender began the second half as he did the first, hitting outside shots and harassing State's guards.
He made two perimeter shots to start the second half, each pushing Kentucky to its largest leads to that point: 39-28 and 41-30.
"More than anybody, Ed wanted to play well," said Walker, who is Davender's roommate. "He wanted to show he could hit the shots like he did earlier in the season."
Trouble appeared when Walker went down under the State basket after Robinson made a layup at the 17:21 mark. Walker was holding his chin as he walked off the court.
He returned at the 16:43 mark.
Kentucky outscored MSU 15-4 in the final 5:11 of a topsy-turvy first half to take a 37-28 lead at intermission.
The Wildcats ruled in the early going, benefiting from Davender's renewed touch from outside and a swarming defense.
With Davender hitting his first four attempts, UK twice took eight-point leads in the first 10 minutes (16-8 and 20-12).
UK's defense was also a factor. State, which in last season's game here against Kentucky tied a school record with only five turnovers, committed that many in the first 6 1/2 minutes alone. The Bulldogs finished with 20.
However, State controlled the middle portion of the half. The Bulldogs scored 10 straight points in a three-minute stretch.
Those points came as State was able to get into its offense. Brown, a senior center, led the charge, scoring six points including a foul-line jumper that tied it at 20 with 8:25 remaining in the half.
Taylor, usually a terror against UK, was hounded into three of State's 12 first-half turnovers.
Taylor, a jump-shooting specialist, had only one basket in the first half. His fast-break layup put State ahead 22-20 at the 7:49 mark.
At 6:01, State was still ahead by two (24-22) when the half shifted again.
UK abandoned the idea of placing Walker on the perimeter of State's 2-1-2 zone. Once inside, Walker and UK seemed to click.
Walker tied it at 22 with a slam, flexing his shoulders afterward as if releasing a half of frustration.
UK took the lead for good and began a 15-4 run at the end of the half when Walker's three-point play followed a rebound off a UK missed free throw.
That play put Kentucky ahead 25-24 with 5:11 remaining.
Two straight baskets by Winston Bennett, a post-up and a tip-in, extended the lead to 29-24.
Two Roger Harden baskets from the perimeter, an outside jumper by Madison and a post-up by Walker made for an 8-2 run that concluded the half.