LEXINGTON, Ky. — SIU's men's basketball team never opened the door for second-ranked Kentucky Friday night. The Wildcats had to break it down to win their first game of the season in a closer-than-expected contest.
The Salukis jumped out to a 13-5 lead in their first appearance at Rupp Arena and trailed by just three at the break in front of an announced crowd of 20,277 fans. Aaron Cook's steal and layup at the other end about six minutes into the second half put SIU up seven, but some well-timed offensive rebounds and eight points from guards Keldon Johnson and Quade Green sank the Salukis 71-59. Forward E.J. Montgomery's offensive rebound, one of 18 for the Wildcats (1-1), led to a putback layup and a 63-55 edge with 3:52 to go.
"I asked our guys to do three things: play your butts off, play unselfish and stick to the game plan," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "I thought we went 3 for 3. This is what I told our guys. There's a difference between losing and getting beat. Tonight we got beat."
SIU (0-1) climbed back to within six off Kavion Pippen's two free throws, but Green, part of Kentucky's 32-point assault from the bench, pushed the lead to eight. Green then stole the ball from SIU's Marcus Bartley and threw it ahead to Johnson, who slammed home two of his 15 points.
Immanuel Quickley matched Johnson's 15 points, and forward Nick Richards scored eight points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds, the most-ever for a Wildcat under coach John Calipari. Kentucky, which got only six points and five rebounds from starting forward Reid Travis, outrebounded SIU 48-19, including 18-7 off the offensive glass. The 29-rebound deficit was the second-worst in school history, behind Creighton's 32-rebound win back on March 7, 1972.
The Wildcats scored 17 second-chance points to SIU's eight, and overcame 19 turnovers.
"We did have a lot of turnovers, and we've got some guys that gotta get better with the ball," Calipari said. "We're going to show them tomorrow all 19 turnovers, and I'll have one question after each one: 'Was that necessary?' Some of them were pretty good plays, OK, they got a hand on 'em, but my guess is nine of them were, like, 'Why in the world would you even attempt that?' Today, I thought some guys played for us. I thought every single guy the other night played for themselves. Every single guy on the court."
Richards, a 6-11, 244-pound sophomore, produced no points and two boards in 13 minutes in Tuesday's 118-84 loss to No. 4 Duke. Friday night, with Kentucky's 10th straight home-opening victory in jeopardy, he grabbed nine offensive boards and blocked three shots in 27 minutes.
"It was just energy and effort that my coaches have been talking about since the Duke game," Richards said. "Other than that, I was just happy to be able to pull out a win with my team."
Pippen helped his team to a big upset, scoring 16 points and grabbing a team-high seven rebounds. Pippen made 7 of 15 from the field, 2 of 3 at the free-throw line, and handed out three assists in 32 minutes.
"I felt like we handled it pretty well in the first half," Pippen said. "Down the stretch we got kind of outrebounded. We got outphysicaled, and it got the crowd into it, and we let the moment get away."
Foul trouble knocked out starters Sean Lloyd, Armon Fletcher and Bartley with about seven minutes to go in the first half. Fletcher came back in briefly, but fouled out in the second half with 9:20 to play. The 6-5 senior guard/forward, who missed the Salukis' exhibition game while in the concussion protocol, scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds in 15 minutes.
SIU was forced to go small. When Richards missed a short jumper from the right side, the Salukis failed to block out Montgomery, who easily grabbed the rebound and scored for the eight-point lead. SIU never got any closer the rest of the way, but left Lexington with a lot of positives ahead of its big home opener against Buffalo Monday night.
"When we've had guys foul out, or we've gone to a short bench, we haven't competed, or we haven't executed like we needed to. We did tonight. We did tonight," Hinson said. "I'm more than encouraged. You UK fans don't care about this, but we got a big game Monday. We're gonna have to play our tails off. We said we're going to find out a lot about our basketball team these next two games, and we will. We found out a lot tonight."