Cats overcome bad start to down ETSU
LEXINGTON (AP) — Putting away an opponent for once doesn’t mean Kentucky’s young roster is turning the corner toward maturity.
The seventh-ranked Wildcats had promising moments against East Tennessee State to offset play that frustrated coach John Calipari.
Quade Green scored a career-high 21 points, Kevin Knox had 17 points with 10 rebounds and Kentucky overcame an early deficit to run away from the Buccaneers 78-61 on Friday night.
Though the Wildcats (3-1) bounced back from Tuesday’s 65-61, Champions Classic loss to No. 4 Kansas , they had to overcome an 18-8 deficit, a start that led Calipari to yank his all-freshman starting lineup.
Committing 22 turnovers and making just 3 of 15 free throws gave the coach more fuel to chide his team.
“I knew we’d have a letdown after Kansas,” Calipari said. “It just shows they’re not mature enough to figure all this out and that every game matters and that you’re being evaluated personally and us as a team every game we play.
“Guys went out and, ‘I’m just going to go get mine,’ and when you do that, you don’t look like a very good basketball player.”
Fortunately for Kentucky, Green was able to right things offensively.
He took charge to score 10 of their next 12 points to cut the lead to 23-20, and Hamidou Diallo and Wenyen Gabriel combined for 11 of the next 16 as Kentucky outscored ETSU 28-12 over the final 10:05 for a 36-30 halftime lead.
The Wildcats kept rolling behind defense that held the Buccaneers (1-2) to 32 percent shooting, including just 10 of 36 (28 percent) in the second half. They also owned the paint (38-22), fast break points (14-2) and registered eight blocks to win their first game of the Adolph Rupp Classic.
Green made 9 of 13 from the field to top his previous high of 15 points on Sunday against Vermont.
“I was just reading how they were playing me,” Green said. “You know, shoot when I’m open and they play hard, get in the lane, swing it, get everybody involved.”
Peter Jurkin had 17 points and David Burrell 11 for ETSU.
ETSU: The Buccaneers started four seniors and initially flexed their experience on Kentucky’s young lineup. They shot well at first but went cold after starting 7 of 13 from the field. ETSU couldn’t match the Wildcats inside nor slow them on the break. They were outrebounded 40-37 but stayed close most of the night.
“I thought in the first half we had things going our way,” coach Steve Forbes said of the Wildcats. “We caught them at a good time coming off a very emotional game against Kansas. … Second half, they came out and defended like they’re capable of defending.”
Kentucky: The learning curve continued as another veteran squad knocked the young Wildcats on their heels before they found their resolve and shooting touch. This hole occurred early enough for them to regroup from 4-of-14 shooting, and they didn’t look back in making 57 percent from the field. While Green provided the offensive spark, Sacha Killeya-Jones (eight rebounds) and Knox handled the boards. PJ Washington had 12 points and eight rebounds, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander came off the bench to score 10 with a career-high six assists.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
All of Kentucky’s blocks came in the second half. Killeya-Jones had three.
WE’LL TAKE IT
Despite his double-double, Knox believed he and the Wildcats could have done better.
“We didn’t play the way we wanted in the second half, and the first half Coach Cal wasn’t happy at all,” said Knox, who made 6 of 13 from the field. “But at least we got the win and we will enjoy it.”
ETSU hosts Delaware State on Monday night.
Kentucky hosts Troy on Monday night.