NEW YORK — A year ago, Kentucky was sent home from the Champions Classic in a daze after getting blown out by Zion Williamson and Duke.
This time around, the Wildcats are heading home with a win over the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
No. 2 Kentucky, behind a stellar performance from freshman guard Tyrese Maxey, knocked off top-ranked Michigan State on Tuesday, 69-62.
Maxey came off the bench in his first career game to deliver 26 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including the game-clinching 3-pointer with just over a minute left.
“I shot that shot 1,000 times in high school, I shot it 1,000 times this summer,” Maxey said. “I have confidence in myself because I put in the work.”
Maxey, a five-star recruit coming out of high school, provided much-needed offensive spark for Kentucky on a night when the rest of the team shot just 12-for-38 from the field and 3-for-11 from 3-point range. He knocked down three 3-pointers and also grabbed five rebounds.
“I didn’t start him because I told him I wanted [him] to come in firing,” Calipari said. “I want you to watch what’s happening and you get in there and you let it go.”
“What I saw today is what I saw in high school,” Calipari added. “I [had] not seen it to this point. I’m in practice, where’s the sniper that I recruited? … But the two days prior to this, all I talked about was you be that sniper — play. We need you to get baskets for us.”
The much-hyped point guard matchup between Michigan State’s Cassius Winston and Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans didn’t disappoint, as Winston finished with 21 points and four assists — but Hagans had his moments (11 points, three assists) and made life difficult for Winston. Winston floater and free throw with 1:27 remaining cut Kentucky’s lead to two, but Maxey’s pull-up 3 came on the next possession.
Michigan State struggled to generate consistent offense throughout the night, especially with Winston picking up four fouls and sitting on the bench for stretches in both halves. The Spartans shot only 29.6 percent in the first half and went 5-for-26 for the game from 3-point range.
“I love the fact that we shot 39 percent today and won,” Calipari said. “Those are my games. Because we guarded.
“You saw we got our running game going so I thought they were wearing down a little bit,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told ESPN after the game. “We just couldn’t sustain it. When we got rebounds and ran we were pretty good. I thought Cassius was a little tired tonight. I was surprised because he’s in really good shape. … They have things to work on, I have more things to work on than they do.”
That’s a different sentiment than Kentucky felt last year, when the Wildcats were blown out by 34 at the hands of Duke. But last year, Kentucky didn’t dwell on the loss — “That’s been in the past,” Hagans said — and Calipari doesn’t want to overhype Tuesday’s win either.
“I told these guys, I’ve been on all sides of this,” he said. “In all those years of what we’re talking about, at the end of the year we were one of those teams. And that’s all this is — this was a learning experience for all four teams here.”
Maxey, who turned 19 on Monday, called Tuesday’s win an “amazing birthday celebration.” However, his biggest personal highlight wasn’t his 26 points or his game-clinching shot.
“Looking up at the zeroes and seeing we were ahead of the other team and won,” Maxey said with a smile.
Credit: Source link