The Big Blue Nation was treated to an unexpectedly (and nerve-rackingly) fun night in Lexington on Monday.
In a game that needed an extra five minutes to decide the outcome, Kentucky men’s basketball (4-1) was able to stave off the Saint Joseph’s Hawks (3-2), winning by a final score of 96-88 in overtime at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats led by just three at halftime and nearly coughed up the victory near the end of the second half as St. Joseph’s got hot from distance. The Hawks shot 15-35 from distance (42.9 percent), although Kentucky was equally as efficient at 12-25 (48 percent).
In the end, it was a pair of clutch three-pointers in overtime from veteran forward Tre Mitchell that sealed the win for UK. Mitchell closed his night with 22 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four blocks in a team-high 41 minutes played. He was aided by fellow fifth-year Antonio Reeves, who chipped in 20 points of his own on 7-9 shooting. The freshman trio of DJ Wagner (22 points), Rob Dillingham (13), and Justin Edwards (12) all finished in double-figure scoring, as well.
As a team, Kentucky shot 51.6 percent from the field, 48.0 percent from distance, and a below-average 64.0 percent (16-25) from the charity stripe. UK turned the ball over just nine times and won the battle of fastbreak points 28-11 but was outrebounded 42-37. St. Joseph’s shot just under 43 percent overall for the game, powered by 28 points from Erik Reynolds.
As has been the case for most home games early on in the season, the opposing team came out of the gates with more energy. Saint Joseph’s kicked things off with a quick 7-2 lead not even two minutes into the contest. The Hawks would maintain a slight lead over the course of the next several minutes before Kentucky finally woke up.
A Dillingham three-pointer at the 10:44 mark gave the ‘Cats its first lead of the night at 20-17. St. Joseph’s would stay close though, knotting up the score on multiple occasions in the ensuing minutes. Two triples from Reeves bookended around a Wagner layup would push the Wildcats ahead late in the first half, making it 35-27 with under four minutes until the break.
But the Hawks would respond, outscoring Kentucky 11-6 ahead of the intermission. Luckily, a timely three-pointer from Mitchell in the closing 35 seconds gave the ‘Cats a slight 41-38 lead going into the locker room. Reeves led the way for UK after 20 minutes with 13 points, followed up by 10 more from Dillingham. Kentucky was shooting an efficient 7-13 from deep but was losing the rebounding battle 22-15.
To start the second half, Kentucky was looking for the kill. A dunk by Wagner was followed up by back-to-back three-pointers from Mitchell and Reeves, making it a nine-point lead for the home team. But again, the Hawks refused to go away, trimming that deficit all the way down to one point just a few minutes later. Kentucky was going to have to earn this win down the stretch.
With eight minutes remaining in the game, Kentucky went into the second-to-last media timeout clinging to a six-point lead. But every time it looked like the ‘Cats were about to pull away, St. Joseph’s hit a clutch shot. A massive triple from the Hawks made it a four-point game with just under five minutes left, forcing UK into a timeout.
St. Joseph’s would eventually tie the game at 73-73 with roughly two minutes left in regulation, covering the Big Blue Nation with a wave of anxiety. Dillingham came through at the perfect time, convincing a mid-range jumper to drop in that gave Kentucky the lead back. But another massive triple from the Hawks gave them a one-point lead, 76-75, with just 35 seconds left as the ‘Cats called a timeout.
With the game on the line, Wagner found a lane in the defense and got his way to the rim. His left-handed layup would fall off the rim, but Mitchell was in the right place at the right time for the putback slam. St. Joseph’s would get fouled on the other end though, making one of two at the line. Tie game, Kentucky ball, under 10 seconds left. Wagner couldn’t get the go-ahead game-winner to fall though, sending us into overtime.
The extra period was all about Mitchell’s hot start. The veteran big man canned two huge shots from beyond the arc, giving Kentucky a four-point lead with 3:05 on the clock. Some missed free throws from the ‘Cats kept the score tight, but St. Joseph’s was unable to put enough points on the board to maintain pace. The result was an eight-point overtime win for Kentucky and a big sigh of relief from the BBN.
Next up: Kentucky will host Marshall back at Rupp Arena this Friday at 7:00 p.m. EST on the SEC Network.