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ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes Revels In Calling Kentucky, Tennessee Scoring Spectaculars On Consecutive Nights

Reed Sheppard and Dalton Knecht's respective career-high games leave Dykes in awe: "In my 25 years at ESPN, those are the best back-to-back individual performances I've ever had as a college basketball analyst."

Veteran ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes was on the call for two of the most exciting games of the season on back-to-back nights earlier this week.

Tuesday, in Starkville, Miss., he and play-by-play commentator Karl Ravech called Kentucky’s 91-89 victory over Mississippi State. Freshman guard Reed Sheppard capped a 32-point showing with the game-winning shot in the final second.

Jimmy Dykes and Tom Hart called Tennessee’s Feb. 28 victory over Auburn. (ESPN)

Wednesday in Knoxville, Tenn., Dykes and Tom Hart called Tennessee’s 92-84 victory over Auburn. Senior guard Dalton Knecht scored 39 points, 27 in the second half.

“In my 25 years at ESPN, those are the best back-to-back individual performances I’ve ever had as a college basketball analyst,” Dykes said.

Below, Dykes reflects on those thrilling games before his next assignment, calling No. 24 Florida at No. 18 South Carolina on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) with Hart.

What was it like calling two of the year’s best games on back-to-back nights?
It felt early on at “The Hump” in Starkville that something special was happening. You could literally feel the emotions in the arena. When Kentucky is in town, it’s not a game; it’s an event. When it got down to game-winning time and who’s going to seize control of the moment, like I said on the air, ‘a Sheppard boy shall lead them.’ When a kid like Reed Sheppard or Dalton Knecht takes over as an analyst, you start searching for ways to describe what he’s doing. What other superlatives can I use on the air to put it in perspective?

How did you spend the time between the games?
After the game, I drove from Starkville to Birmingham for about two-and-a-half hours. I got about six hours of sleep, drove four hours Wednesday morning, and got to Knoxville just in time for Auburn’s shootaround at noon.Tennessee went straight after. I went to my hotel, got my suit out, ironed it, took a shower, and went straight back to the arena. All of a sudden, you look up, and there’s the largest crowd at Thompson-Bowling Arena this year, and it’s time to go again.

As an analyst, what is the strategy when a big moment like Sheppard’s game-winning basket happens?

Over the years, you learn to try to let the moment breathe. I’m a guy that gives a natural reaction on the air and that’s O.K. When he made the shot, I’m sure you’ll hear me give out a little, ‘Wow!’ Something just comes out. But that’s the time to just sit back and watch and hope the viewers can capture what just went down in this arena. I think you have to have discipline with what you’re saying at that moment, but I also think it’s O.K. to be a fan a little bit and respond to a big shot like that.

Can you explain what’s going on here?
Thompson-Bowling Arena was rocking an hour before the game. It was filling up fast, and it was hot. The DJ was down there and had that place ready to go. My producer [Scott Matthews] suggested that I go over there and see if he’d let me do his job for a little bit.

I said, ‘Absolutely, I’ll go.’ It was right in front of the student section, and they were all going nuts. It was all just fun. I think it’s just good for the personalities at ESPN to go over to the student section and say ‘hi’ to them, engage, and have fun with them for a little bit. That’s all it was, just bringing attention to how awesome it was in there.

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