Before Kentucky snapped a six-game losing streak with a 78-73 double-overtime victory at Mississippi State on Saturday, Wildcats coach John Calipari said he told his staff he hoped Dontaie Allen -- an in-state product who had logged just 19 minutes and scored seven points combined before the win -- would help the team secure a victory in its first SEC matchup.
Allen answered that call, finishing with a team-high 23 points and going 7-for-11 from 3-point range in a wild game that also included Calipari's ejection with just over nine minutes to play in regulation.
"When you do that, you kind of prove your point, and that's what you're supposed to do when you get a chance," Calipari said of Allen's outing. "I'm so happy for him. I said to the staff before the game that I hope he goes big because we needed to win."
Kentucky had been entangled in the program's worst stretch of basketball in nearly 100 years. It hadn't lost six games in a row since 1927, three years before the program hired Adolph Rupp. It was also the first time the team suffered six consecutive losses under Calipari.
Allen, a former Mr. Basketball in Kentucky and a redshirt freshman who missed last season because of injury, said he never doubted his potential and continued to work, hoping Calipari would give him an opportunity to showcase his talent.
"If I'm being honest, I don't think it was pressure, because I put in the work," Allen said. "I didn't know when my opportunity was going to come. Nobody knows, so I was just keeping my head down and just working hard. I'm thankful for the opportunity that I had tonight."
The game resembled the six previous games Kentucky had lost. Mississippi State had the edge throughout the matchup until Kentucky finished strong in regulation after Calipari's ejection.
In the two overtimes, Allen made big shots, including a crucial 3-pointer in the second overtime, to help the Wildcats (2-6, 1-0 SEC) enjoy a win for the first time in more than a month.
Calipari said he didn't plan the ejection, which left assistant Bruiser Flint to run the team and was the result of a second technical foul he picked up after an argument with one of the officials with his team down six points midway through the second half. But he also said he hoped it would give his players a boost.
"I know you're going to say, 'Did you do this on purpose?' The first one? Yes, I did because there were two or three things that happened that we weren't going to have a chance to win if we didn't [fix]," he said. "My second one, it was like, 'Yeah, OK.'"
He added: "When I walked off, I said this is either gonna be a good thing or a bad thing."
Olivier Sarr, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, said he expected the ejection based on the emotions Calipari displayed throughout the game.
"For me, and I think the entire team, I think it was something we knew might happen, knowing the past that Coach had with games like that," Sarr said. "But for us, it was more just being, 'All right, Coach is not here -- we've gotta execute.'"
Calipari said he hid in the locker room to watch his team celebrate after the game and "remember why I do what I do."
He also said he's still focused on helping his team reach the NCAA tournament. Before last season, the previous time Kentucky had three or more nonconference losses entering conference play was 2013-14, when the Wildcats made a run to the Final Four after a rocky start. The Wildcats didn't get a chance to compete for the NCAA tournament last season after three nonconference losses because the tourney was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm just watching football teams that were like 3-8 playing in bowl games," he said. "We don't know where any of this stuff is going."