DETROIT - The Kentucky Wildcats made shots with daylight peeking through glass, students bouncing on the turf and a record crowd rooting against them.
Playing with remarkable poise, as if they were home at Rupp Arena, Gerald Fitch scored 25 points to lead the eighth-ranked Wildcats to a 79-74 victory over No. 21 Michigan State on Saturday before a basketball world-record crowd of 78,129 at Ford Field.
“It got loud at times, but we blocked the noise out and focused on the game at hand,” said Kentucky’s Cliff Hawkins, who had 13 points. “We didn’t get caught up in the atmosphere.”
The Wildcats, who never trailed, are 5-0 for the first time since 1992-93. The Wildcats are ranked No. 2 in the coaches poll, and will likely be No. 1 when the next poll is released on Monday.
Paul Davis scored a career-high 24 points for Michigan State (3-4), which has a losing record for the first time since 1995-96, Tom Izzo’s first season as head coach.
“I’m more disappointed than usual because we had an opportunity of a lifetime,” Izzo said.
Basketball’s previous attendance record was 75,000, set in 1951 when the Harlem Globetrotters played at Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
The NCAA attendance record was 68,112, set in 1990 at the Louisiana Superdome when Notre Dame played LSU. The NBA record is 62,046 from a Chicago-Atlanta game at the Georgia Dome in 1998.
“We are so pleased and excited to be a part of such a historical-type atmosphere,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “It was a real festive atmosphere. It was a real happening event.”
Besides the 65,000 spectators the stadium holds for a Detroit Lions game, there were about 5,000 students — without seats — standing, jumping and lounging on the artificial turf.
Another 5,000 fans had seats on the floor, some paying as much as $500, as did hundreds of band members from both schools.
Others spent $8 for seats in the upper deck that were so far away jersey numbers could only be seen with binoculars.
In one end zone, students looked like they were at an outdoor concert.
Some sat behind Kentucky’s band and “The Izzone,” Michigan State’s student section, and could only see the heads and shoulders of the players despite the court being elevated on a 3-foot platform.
Others simply laid on their backs and watched the game on the videoboards.
“We just got tired of standing up,” said Mike Morgan, 17, of Grand Rapids. “It’s pretty cool to be here for the record. That’s the reason we came.”
Players had to walk up three steps to get on the court, which Michigan State brought from East Lansing.
The undersized Wildcats didn’t have much trouble scoring inside against Michigan State, with a 44-26 advantage on points in the paint.
When they chose to shoot from the perimeter, the unique sight lines didn’t seem to bother them. Kentucky shot 60 percent.
When the Wildcats shot from the right wing in the first half, they saw daylight beyond the basket through a 65-foot high glass wall. In the second half, it was dark.
After trailing by 15 points in the first half and by 10 early in the second half, Michigan State pulled to 62-61 with 8:21 left.
Kentucky then built three six-point leads before Shannon Brown’s two free throws pulled the Spartans within two with 1:04 left.
Fitch’s two free throws with 21 seconds left and Brown’s 3-point miss sealed the win for the Wildcats. The Spartans shot 43.1 percent.
“It just shows no matter how big the stage is, when it comes down to it, our defense is going to get us the win,” said Kentucky’s Chuck Hayes, who had 14 points. “And when we need shots, we’re going to make them.”
While Michigan State fans streamed out of the stadium in the final seconds, thousands of Kentucky fans stuck around to sing “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Kentucky’s Erik Daniels scored 16 before fouling out with 3:15 left.
Brown scored 14 for the Spartans, and Chris Hill had 13.
Unlike basketball games at domes that have attracted 40,000-plus fans, the court was not tucked into an end zone and there was no curtain to cut off half the seats.
“They did a magnificent job because you don’t have the feel of a dome,” Smith said. “I’m sure the people making that decision at the NCAA will look at that and see how well this was laid out.”
But the Spartans did not leave downtown Detroit with fond memories from the event.
“I’ll definitely remember the final score over everything,” Davis said.
It’s not the first time the Spartans have set an attendance record.
Michigan State played Michigan in hockey two years ago at Spartan Stadium before 74,554, a world-record crowd for a hockey game.
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