Kentucky overcomes slow start to defeat Aggies
LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — It took Kentucky five minutes to get over its loss to Alabama.
In the Wildcats’ first home game in nearly a month, visiting Texas A&M scored the first 10 points and raced out to a 12-2 lead before the Wildcats regrouped and settled into a rhythm to defeat the Aggies 85-74 Tuesday night.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff we’ve got to get done, but it was a good win,” Calipari said. “They had a chance to beat us. … I have to do whatever I need to do to get the guys over the finish line. I was dragging, I was literally dragging. I’m exhausted right now.”
Following the Aggies’ hot start, Kentucky (11-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) responded with a 16-2 run and turned the double-digit lead into a 27-18 advantage with six minutes remaining in the first half. Kentucky led 46-34 at the break.
The Aggies (6-7, 0-2) narrowed the double-digit deficit to 66-64 but Kentucky made five of its last seven shots, including an Immanuel Quickley 3-pointer to put the game away in the final six minutes.
“It was tough (to get the win),” Quickley said. “We had to fight and be resilient. Guys came to play. We just played hard, played together and those were the deciding factors in winning this game.”
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy was pleased with his team’s comeback but said Kentucky’s defensive presence was a difference in the outcome.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game,” he said. “Their physicality gave us problems in the stretch when we turned the ball over too much in the first half that led to easy baskets.”
Despite the slow start, Kentucky used its defense to jumpstart the offense. The Wildcats forced 12 turnovers, collected seven steals and tallied 16 points off the Aggies’ miscues in the first frame. Kentucky reserves Nick Richards, Quickley, E.J. Montgomery and Jemarl Baker combined for 20 points in the first half.
Tyler Herro paced three Kentucky players in double figures with 21 points. Herro scored 10 points and made two of Kentucky’s four shots from long range in the first half.
Herro said the Wildcats took a “step back” and said a “lack of focus” prevented the Wildcats from pulling away from the Aggies.
“(We just) need to pay attention to the scouting report and (stay) locked in,” he said.
Kentucky shot well from the free-throw line, especially in the first half. The Wildcats made 14 of 16 free throws in the first half. Hagans was six-for-seven, while Keldon Johnson, Herro, Nick Richards, and Jemarl Baker were a perfect 8-8 from the free-throw line. Overall, the Wildcats were 21-for-23 from the charity stripe, with Johnson, Herro, Washington, Richards, and Baker combining for 11-11 foul shots.
Baker’s lone field goal in the opening half was a 3-pointer from the right corner. Baker was fouled on the shot and swished the free-throw for a rare four-point play.
Calipari said Baker’s energy helped set the tone for his team early in the first half.
“I thought Jermarl Baker went in and was just playing basketball,” Calipari said. “He wasn’t playing for himself, trying to get his (points). If a guy was open, he threw it to him. It changed the whole complexion of the game. Willing passers is all I’ve been talking about. We still have guys that (are saying), I’m willing if I can score my points. You can’t play basketball that way. “
Baker said he just “got in and played my game.”
“I just brought effort and energy,” he said. “I just played as hard as I could.”
Gametracker: Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 8:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.