/There’s no ‘give up’ in State, but Bulldogs must learn how to finish a game

There’s no ‘give up’ in State, but Bulldogs must learn how to finish a game

After his team led by 15 minutes, by 18 in the second half, and by one at the end of the third quarter, Calipari metaphorically said that “We held onto the rope but our hands are bleeding now”. Calipari described the Bulldogs as a Top 20 team. They are a team that will progress in the (NCAA tournament. They are physically tough. They have great guard play ….” Maybe, but State was ranked as high at No. The Bulldogs were ranked 14 earlier in this season. The Bulldogs’ loss on Saturday dropped them to 4-6 in SEC play and to 16-7 overall. The Bulldogs are now in the second division of the SEC, which is not the place you want to be going into February. State’s Ben Howland stated, “We must win.” We must win Tuesday against Alabama. We don’t have to play at 4 or 7 on Tuesday. Alabama will be playing at The Hump on Tuesday at 8 p.m. The Crimson Tide has not only defeated State (83-79 Jan. 29), but it is also the only SEC team to have been good enough for Kentucky (20-3, 9-1). Alabama is the only mid-February match that can be considered a must-win. Already, the Bulldogs have lost three SEC games at home. They cannot afford another home loss. Here’s the thing: The Bulldogs don’t play poorly. On Wednesday night, they lost in overtime against the oh so talented LSU. This loss came after Ole Miss won on the road, but State is 2.5 games ahead in the SEC standings. On Saturday, the Bulldogs had a chance at beating Kentucky. But they failed to do so. These heartbreaking losses are not uncommon. In overtime, the Bulldogs fell to South Carolina. They were defeated by Ole Miss here by four points. Alabama was their loss. They lost the overtime game to LSU. They could have been 6-4 or 4-6. But they are who their record says and the State is looking for success. Howland stated, “I liked our fight, and I liked our effort.” “I’m proud to how we competed,” Howland said. Kentucky led 49-31 on PJ Washington’s 3-pointer with 16 mins, 41 seconds remaining. Just when you thought Kentucky would blow away the Bulldogs and clear The Hump, State lit up. Q Weatherspoon, who was scoreless in the first period, scored the first of three treys in the second half to start the rally. State increased its defense intensity, bringing more than 9,000 people into the game. The crowd was a source of inspiration for the Bulldogs. Lamar Peters discovered the range. Freshman Robert Woodard made some big baskets. Nick Weatherspoon was also a big basket-maker. Calipari stated that he had told his team at halftime that there would be two strong runs in the second half. “I told them they gotta respond to these runs and they did,” Calipari said. Tyler Herro, a guard, was the most responsive. He did what he did with just 2:59 left. Kentucky held a lead of four points. The noise was overwhelming. State was doing well. The shot clock was ticking down. The 6-foot-5 Herro hit a tightly guarded, NBA-length trey and fell away from the basket in front of the Kentucky bench. Calipari would say later, “How about that shot?” These shots win difficult games. Those are the tough shots State has not been able to win in too many games this year. Howland stated, “I felt we played well enough for victory.” After the LSU game, Howland could have said the exact same thing. You are only what your record shows. The Bulldogs currently have two games below.500 in a league that has been as great for 25 years. It won’t get any easier. State must improve.