In one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history, Evansville beat No. 1 Kentucky 67-64 on Tuesday night in Lexington, marking the program’s first ever win over a No. 1 team.
Evansville’s Sam Cunliffe, a transfer who had previously played at Arizona State and Kansas, hit a pair of free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining to seal the win. Wildcats guard Tyrese Maxey missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Purple Aces had been picked to finish eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason poll following last season’s 11-21 record and 5-13 finish in conference play in head coach Walter McCarty’s first season.
“They are a great team, the toughest team to play us,” said McCarty, who starred as a player for the 1996 Kentucky team that won a national title. “But I believe in my guys. I told them, ‘We’re gonna go in there and get them. We’re gonna surprise some people today.’ I told them, ‘This is a great day to be a Purple Ace. Let’s go do it.'”
Cunliffe finished with 17 points and K.J. Riley had 18 points for Evansville, which led much of the game despite shooting just 38.3% from the field. Immanuel Quickley had a team-high 16 points (5-for-12) for the Wildcats, who were held to 37% shooting from the field and became the first AP No. 1 to lose at home to an unranked non-conference opponent.
Last week, Kentucky defeated then-No. 1 Michigan State in the Champions Classic. Tuesday night, the Wildcats suffered a home loss to a Missouri Valley Conference team that wasn’t picked to finish in the top-half of its league.
It’s the first time in the AP poll era that two No. 1 teams have lost in November.
“I’ve done this for 37 years, and things like this happen,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari. “It’s what you do from here. We may say three weeks later that this is the best thing to happen to us. I’ve said it from Day 1: The whole thing with this team is toughness.”
Kentucky had won 52 consecutive games against unranked opponents at home. ESPN’s BPI had given Evansville a 4 percent chance to win, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Calipari credited the Purples Aces for being “the tougher team” Tuesday night.
“If we would’ve somehow pulled it out, it would have been unfair, because they were the tougher team,” Calipari said. “They made shots, and that’s tough to do in this building. Give credit to Walter. He had his team better prepared than I had my team. They deserved to win.”
The Purple Aces were a 25-point underdog at Caesars Sportsbook, matching the third-largest betting upset in the past 15 seasons in a college basketball game involving two Division-I teams.
Kentucky was the first No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll to lose to a team that had 11 or fewer wins in the previous season since Stanford during the 2003-04 season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Evansville also became the fourth team to secure its first-ever road win against an Associated Press-ranked squad that was the top team in America in the poll.
“We just matched up real well. Our guys make the extra pass, they look for each other. They rotate,” McCarty said. “We play nine or 10 guys, and we move out there. We tried to play with a specific pace to make them make mistakes. Our guys play really fast, and we’re used to it. It was just about making the right play.
“There are times where I have to put them in their place. But we are brothers, on and off the court. We just have to continue to build off this.”
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