By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky used an 18-2 run early in the first half to built a 14-point lead and then basically did what it needed the rest of the way to beat No. 22 Mississippi State 76-55 Tuesday night for its fifth straight Southeastern Conference victory.
Sophomore PJ Washington overcame his own shaky offensive start — including a missed two-handed dunk — to lead UK with 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting (indulging 3-for-5 on 3-pointers), six rebounds and a career-high four blocked shots in 27 minutes. It was his third 20-point game of the season.
“He had a great game and … he had a great game,” State’s Robert Woodard, who had 13 rebounds, said and smiled. “You have to be ready for anybody on a given night. Now you have guys his size attack the rim and shoot. Do whatever it takes to help a team win and that’s what he did tonight.”
“They did a good job attacking us in the post,” State coach Ben Howland said. “PJ Washington had a great game. Really hurt us. Looked like an all-SEC player to me. I think he is a heck of a player.”
Tyler Herro was a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range and had 18 points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal. He now has six games with three or more 3-pointers and UK is 6-0 in those games.
Reid Travis pulled off 12 rebounds to lead UK on the boards and Ashton Hagans was — well Ashton Hagans. He had five points, career-high nine assists and two rebounds. His streak of games with three or more steals ended — barring another review that would up that total like it did after UK’s previous two games— but he did have two steals.
State had a 7-0 run to cut the UK lead to 41-39 with 13:36 to play before Hagans got a key basket and then Herro got fouled on a 3-point try and made all three foul shots to push the lead to 49-41 during a 16-4 run and basically settled everything but the final margin.
“They kind of took us out of our offense with their pressure defense. We struggled shooting and couldn’t make no shots,” State guard Tyson Carter, who had 11 points, said.
Mississippi State shot just 31 percent (19 of 61) and missed 17 of the 20 3-point shots it took. Kentucky was 8-for-16 from 3-point range and 26-for-59 (44 percent overall).
“We were rushed offensively and they did a good job speeding us up. Credit their defense,” Howland said.
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Kentucky will seek its third straight win over a ranked team when it hosts Kansas at 6 p.m. Saturday.