OXFORD, Miss. (AP)
Nerlens Noel took just one shot from the field and missed six of eight free throws. Yet there was no doubt that the big man with the big hair was the most important player on the court as Kentucky beat No. 16 Mississippi 87-74 on Tuesday night.
The 6-foot-10 freshman set a school record with 12 blocked shots and altered countless others, leading the Wildcats to their fifth victory in seven games, and their first over a ranked team.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, always a tough critic, said Noel played well but still was struggling with consistency. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was in a more complimentary mood.
''He was the difference in the game,'' Kennedy said. ''I think we can all agree with that. An incredible defensive presence.''
Kentucky (14-6, 5-2 SEC) looked like it might run away with the win, taking a 73-56 lead with 10 minutes remaining after trailing by one at halftime. But the Rebels roared back with 16 straight points, cutting the deficit to 73-72 with 4:22 left.
Ryan Harrow nailed a 3-pointer to halt Ole Miss' run and Noel had a momentum-stopping block of a dunk. Noel was terrific in the final few minutes, flying all over the court with his distinctive flattop haircut, blocking four shots despite playing with four fouls.
While Noel was patrolling the paint on defense, Kentucky got a career-high 26 points from Kyle Wiltjer. The 6-10 sophomore hit 10 of 19 shots from the field, including 5 of 12 from 3-point range.
''I tried to be aggressive,'' Wiltjer said. ''They were playing my shot pretty tightly, so I was able to drive a little bit and my teammates found me. We did a good job in transition. It was a great team win.''
Archie Goodwin scored 24 points and Alex Poythress added 15 for Kentucky.
Goodwin made 6 of 11 shots from the field and 12 of 14 from the free throw line. He had six rebounds and four assists.
Ole Miss (17-3, 6-1) had its nine-game winning streak snapped. LaDarius White led the Rebels with 22 points while Marshall Henderson added 21. Henderson made 5 of 19 shots from the field, including just 2 of 11 from 3-point range.
''We're getting better as a team,'' Calipari said. ''That's a good win.''
Ole Miss led 38-37 at halftime despite making just 13 of 44 shots (29.5 percent) from the field. Henderson led the Rebels with 16 points and White had 15.
Kentucky stayed close thanks to Wiltjer's 17 points while Goodwin added 10, but the Wildcats struggled at the free throw line, making just 10 of 20.
Both teams struggled with foul trouble for almost the entire first half and had to dig deep on the bench for bodies.
But once the second half started, the Wildcats were back at full strength and their offense exploded. Wiltjer hit two early 3s to push Kentucky ahead and the lead grew to 73-56 with 10 minutes left.
Kentucky's offense was good during that stretch, but the Ole Miss defense was just as bad. The Wildcats made several easy baskets in transition and off offensive rebounds.
And with Ole Miss needing points, Henderson was mostly silent in the second half. The Rebels came back anyway, with the stunning run that cut the deficit to 73-72 with 4:22 left.
Once again, the Rebels were let down by their defense. Harrow hit the wide open 3-pointer and the Wildcats were able to slowly put the game away. Harrow finished with 13 points.
''We got a little rattled, but we regrouped,'' Wiltjer said. ''I'm proud of the guys for stepping up. That was huge for us in that situation.''
Ole Miss shot just 28 of 85 from the field (32.9 percent). The Rebels did outrebound Kentucky 52-45 and grabbed 26 offensive rebounds, but the poor shooting was tough to overcome.
''Our guards shoot a combined 10 of 38 from the field,'' Kennedy said. ''That's not going to get you much.''
Murphy Holloway became Ole Miss' all-time leading rebounder on Tuesday, passing Walter Actwood's record with his 946th rebound in the second half. The 6-7 senior is the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double, but was mostly quiet against Noel and the Wildcats with 10 points and eight rebounds.