Eastern Kentucky made the short drive from Richmond on Sunday for a shot at the nation’s No. 1 team in Rupp Arena. It did not go well, as expected. The Cats cruised to an 82-49 victory powered by great defense and an aggressive Karl Towns gettin’ buckets.
The highlight of the night: begging for a three.
Let’s talk about it.
Aaron Harrison hit the biggest shot of his career.
With two minutes and 57 seconds left in the game and Big Blue Nation on pins and needles, wanting a three-pointer, Aaron Harrison pulled up from his go-to spot and drained the long ball. The shot kept Kentucky’s streak of games with a three-pointer alive at 909 consecutive games, the second-longest of its kind in the country.
The Cats were 0-for-10 from beyond the arc prior to Aaron’s clutch shot and many fans, myself included, believed the run was coming to an end. Fans were yelling for the players to shoot the deep ball on every trip down the court and the energy in the building was that of a tight game in its closing moments, not a blowout.
Only at Kentucky would fans sweat out a 33-point win until the very end.
Karl Towns took MVP honors.
Towns was 8-of-9 from the field for a career-high 19 points with a pair of assists, four blocks and one rebound shy of making it a double-double. He added his first career three-pointer late in the game (once the pressure of the streak was relieved) to cap off his big night.
“I felt like Aaron against Wisconsin and Louisville,” Towns told Mike Pratt, looking back on his made three.
While Towns was efficient offensively and led all UK scorers, UK assistant coach John Robic said it was Karl’s best game defensively. Robic believes Towns was more vocal than he’s ever been on the defensive end and played aggressive on both ends of the floor.
And don’t think about stripping him:
That’s a seven-footer making a smaller defender look foolish.
Robic wants to see more from the offense.
“We’ll get better over time offensively,” Robic said in the postgame press conference. He likes where the Cats are defensively through nine game but sees plenty of room for improvement on offense.
Defensively, Robic said some of the numbers they’re producing are “kind of silly.” “It’s mind-boggling.”
The players are doing that brother-keeping thing.
We’re watching a bunch of guys who genuinely like each other on and off the court. We’ve been talking about it since interacting with them in the Bahamas and Robic shared another good example of how unselfish they are tonight. He said Coach Cal looked at Willie when it was Willie’s time to check in and Willie told him to leave Marcus Lee in the game because he was playing well. So Cal let Marcus run with the blue platoon while Willie watched on with excitement from the bench. Robic compared it to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sitting for Darius Miller in 2012; that year ended pretty well if I remember correctly.
Lee said, “That totally does put trust and comfort in your other players, knowing that I would be able to do it for him, and he is also capable of doing the same thing for me. It kind of shows how much we care about each other and we are just not there for ourselves.”
UK held Eastern to under 20 points in the first half because that’s what UK does.
EKU’s 14 first half points marked the eighth time Kentucky held an opponent to under 20 points in a half this season. The Cats forced the Colonels into 26 percent shooting in the game, and other than seven straight points to start the second half, EKU was getting nothing, all night.
UK’s last five opponents shot under 30 percent against the Cats’ defense. No team has shot over 40 percent this season.
Andrew Harrison and Dominique Hawkins tallied six assists apiece.
With Tyler Ulis sidelined with an illness, Dominique Hawkins saw extra playing time as the point man of the white platoon and he made the most of the opportunity, dishing out a career-high six assists in the game. Starting point guard Andrew Harrison added another six assists to the box score, including five in the first 12 minutes of the game.
Devin Booker’s gone cold.
Booker missed all six of his three-point field goal tries, all pretty good looks. He was 1-for-8 from the field in the game and made three inexcusable turnovers. Needless to say, it wasn’t Booker’s night. He’ll be fine, though.
Trey Lyles had his first double-double.
Towns is the game’s MVP but Trey Lyles’ performance did not go unnoticed. The freshman recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes. He has been putting in a lot of extra time in the gym, working on his baseline jumpers and midrange game, and tonight he said he focused on helping his team on the glass. It worked.
EKU’s Eric Stutz did not play, but he did wear this festive headband.
I’ll leave you with that.
Bring on Columbia.