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On This Date in Sports February 15, 1994: Mardi Gras Miracle

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The was a party at Pete Maravich Assembly Center, as LSU held a commanding 68-37 lead over #11 Kentucky in the second half on Mardi Gras. However, the Wildcats made a stunning run scoring 62 points in the final 15:34 to win the game 99-95 in the largest second-half comeback in NCAA history. The 31-point margin was also the second-largest overall comeback in Division 1 history.

In 1994, Kentucky was a program going through a renaissance under Coach Rick Pitino. Five years removed from scandal and probation, the Wildcats became a powerhouse after a trip to the Final Four in 1993. LSU, meanwhile, was entering into a period of lean years under longtime coach Dale Brown. Two years removed from having Shaquille O’Neal on their team, the Bayou Bengals came into a game against #11 Kentucky with two straight losses and an 11-9 record. Kentucky, meanwhile, was also coming in with two consecutive losses as they sat at 18-5 and just dropped out of Top 10 from #4 to #11.

The Maravich Assembly Center had become a house of horrors for Kentucky, who had lost their last four games in Baton Rouge, entering the Fat Tuesday Night matchup. It looked as if that streak would continue as the Tigers took control of the game early, as Rick Pitino looking to send a message, pulled all five starters off the floor with his team down 9-3. Ronnie Henderson was on fire early for LSU, finding the range from three as the Tigers continued to build their lead. Henderson would end the game with eight baskets from downtown, scoring a game-high 36 points, while Clarence Cesar added 32. The only one from Kentucky who seemed to do anything in the early going was Gimel Martinez, who scored ten early points to at least keep the Wildcats in shouting distance. That began to fall apart at the end of the first half, as LSU stretched the lead to 48-32 at the end of the first half, with Kentucky’s starting five accounting for just nine points.

In the second half, the wheels would seemingly fall off for the Wildcats, as LSU once again got off to a fast start stretching the lead to 68-37, powered by an 18-0 run with 15:34 left in the game. After a timeout and a motivational speech by Senior Captain Travis Ford, Kentucky down 31 began shooting three-pointers as their last hope to get back in the game. Meanwhile, perhaps celebrating early, LSU started to make careless mistakes as the Wildcats went on a 24-4 run. With 6:25 left, Kentucky got the game down to single digits on a steal and dunk by Walter McCarty. LSU continued to be their own worst enemy as they missed 11 of 12 free throws in the final 12 minutes.

By now, the momentum had shifted and what had been a party in Baton Rouge turned into a feeling of unease for the Tigers' faithful. With two minutes left, Jeff Brassow cut the deficit to three points. Clarence Cesar made the last of LSU’s points from the free-throw line to make the score 95-90. However, Tony Delk nailed a three to keep the pressure on LSU, as Kentucky’s fantastic run of second-half three-pointers continued, as they shot 12-of-23 from downtown in the second half. After LSU turned the ball over, Jeff Brassow missed both free throws, but the shell-shocked Tigers could not secure the rebound as the ball ended up in McCarty’s hands, who hit a corner three to give Kentucky its first lead of the day at 96-95 with 19 seconds left on the game. LSU would not score again, taking a pair of poor shots, as the Wildcats finished up strong at the free-throw line to record an improbable 99-95 win.

The heroes of the comeback, forever known as the “Mardi Gras Miracle,” were Walter McCarty, who had a team-high 23 points, making seven three-pointers, including the game-winner. Jeff Brassow, who had 14 points, and Tony Delk, who added nine, while Travis Ford, who gave the big prep talked, scored ten points. The 31-point comeback is the largest second-half deficit ever overcome in an NCAA Division 1 game. Only a 32-point comeback by Tulane over Duke in 1950 was larger at the time. Both would be topped in 2018 when Drexel, down 34 late in the first half, rallied to beat Delaware. However, neither Tulane nor Drexel trailed by 31 as late as Kentucky did.

Kentucky would go on to nine of their next ten games and won the SEC Tournament, upsetting #1 Arkansas, the eventual National Champions along the way. However, they would lose to Marquette in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. LSU meanwhile never recovered, as they lost their final six games after the comeback, nine straight overall, and finished with a record of 11-16, missing the tournament for the first time in 11 years.