EJ Montgomery made some mistakes against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, but he also made some clutch plays to help the Cats finally pull away in the second half. One, of course, was his block that set up Nick Richards’ fast-break dunk.
“I keep telling [Mongtomery], he’s going to break through and everybody is going to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, who is this guy?’” Calipari said after the win. “I mean, did you see him block that shot? It changed the game. If we had another big guy in, and he just acted like, ‘well, it’s not my man,’ and didn’t block that shot and that ball goes in, we could have lost the game. That changed the game.”
In addition to his “game-changing” block, Montgomery also sank his first three-point ball of the season.
“I told him, ‘It’s the first one you made all year. It’s good that you made one finally,'” Calipari laughed.
On the season, Montgomery is shooting just under 46 percent from the floor and, thanks to his single trey, 20 percent from the three-point line. He’s recorded double-digit minutes in four of the Cats’ last five games, but he’s taken the second-fewest shots out of all of the players in the main rotation (Richards has taken the fewest (41); Montgomery has taken 74). And although Montgomery’s game may not be progressing as quickly as some of his teammates’ (see: Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro), the other Wildcats have his back.
“EJ [Montgomery] had a great game. The stats sheet won’t show that, but it felt like he had 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds] for us,” PJ Washington said. We’re happy for him. He blocks shots and rebounds really well, so once he gets his time on the court, he’s going to do great with it.”
Part of his issue is still confidence. As one of four Kentucky big men in the rotation, Montgomery doesn’t always have the opportunity – or, perhaps, directive – to step back and take shots.
“We know he can make shots – he does it in practice a lot,” Washington said. “We’re willing to let him take those in a game. He just has to be confident and let those go. One went in today, and I think his confidence went up as well.”
If he can hone in on his shooting ability while still grabbing rebounds and blocking shots, the ball will really be in his court.
“We had a stretch where our two bigs [Washington and Travis] were going through the motions and couldn’t fight. Okay, bang: you’re out. We’ll play these two, [Montgomery and Nick Richards],” Calipari said after Tuesday’s game. “And I told those two, play as many minutes as you can play. You need a break, let me know. We’ll sub a guy off the bench and when you want to go back in, you go back in.”
Not a bad deal. But if he’s going to be the game changer Calipari believes him to be, he still has some work to do.