No. 8 Kentucky lets big lead slip but holds off Troy
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Eighth-ranked Kentucky led by as many as 21 points with 8:25 to play before holding off a furious late rally by Troy en route to a 70-62 win on Monday at Rupp Arena.
“You just don’t have letdowns when you’re up 21 and you’re ready to bury somebody and you just start acting like it doesn’t matter anymore,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “That’s that old AAU high school stuff. You get on a run going the wrong way all of a sudden you can’t make a basket, you can’t. I’ve been in this 30 years. So I’ve got to get through to them.”
The Trojans outscored the Wildcats 14-2 to cut the deficit to 68-59 with 2:57 to play. At that point, Kentucky had missed seven straight shots and was mired in a 5:27 scoring drought.
A jumper by Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox pushed the lead back to double digits, and the Wildcats sealed the win from there.
“We are just extremely proud of how we fought back,” Troy coach Phil Cunningham said. “This is certainly a game we could have hung our heads and given up the way we were shooting, but we hung around and got it all the way down to eight.
“Just really proud of our guys for never giving up in a tough situation to pop back and have a chance to get them a little scared there at the end.”
Kentucky (4-1) got a team-high 17 points from Knox. Freshman Quade Green added 13 points, and Wenyen Gabriel had 12. Freshman Hamidou Diallo narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and a team-best 10 rebounds.
For the game, Kentucky shot 44.1 percent, including 33.3 from 3-point range. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle 53-30 but once again had more turnovers than assists, 16-13.
Wesley Person topped Troy with 17 points. Kevin Baker and Jordon Varnado added 15 each for the Trojans (2-3).
Troy shot just 35.9 percent, 14.8 from 3-point range. The Trojans missed 23 of 27 tries from long range. Troy had nine assists and six turnovers.
Kentucky built a 34-21 lead in the first half with an 26-13 run to pull away from an 8-8 tie. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had six points, and Green and Washington four each during the spurt.
“The first half, I’m telling you for 20 minutes, I told them, ‘You played a great half.’ We’re just not ready to play 40 minutes because they will revert,” Calipari said. “They let go. They go back to their old ways. And that’s the fight. Whether it’s going to take a loss to a team that we should beat, and then they all get together and say, ‘We got to stop.’ I don’t know.
“At some point, we’re going to have to get to play 40 minutes of basketball. But we just have breakdown after breakdown as soon as we get a little fatigued and the game gets going a little bit and the other team starts grinding. But it’s expected when you’re coaching young guys.”
For the game, Kentucky outshot Troy 44.1 percent to 35.9 percent from the floor.
Both teams return to action on Wednesday. Kentucky plays in Rupp Arena against Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne. Troy is at East Tennessee State.
The Wednesday game will be Kentucky’s third in six days before the holiday break.
NOTES: G Wesley Person is Troy’s career leader in 3-point field goals made (280) and career scoring (1,566 points) since the program moved to Division I. Both records were set earlier this year. ... Troy’s Jordon Varnado has scored in double digits in 23 consecutive games. ... In the previous game, Kentucky made just three free throws, shooting 20 percent from the foul line. Both numbers are record lows during coach John Calipari’s time at Kentucky. The Wildcats were 15 of 23 at the line on Monday. ... Kentucky entered the game averaging 7.5 blocked shots, but it blocked just two Troy shots.