By Mark Jordan (@mnjsports)
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Note to Saint Joseph’s fans: If you started burning your fan gear after last week’s loss to Texas A&M-Commerce, you might want to pull out whatever isn’t ash before it’s completely torched.
As bad as they looked last week, they were that good in Monday night’s 96-88 overtime loss to No. 16 Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
The Hawks played Kentucky tightly throughout the entire game. And the one time, at the 14:42 mark of the second half when they suddenly found themselves down by 9, with Kentucky threatening to bolt from the barn, the Hawks grabbed them by the neck and hauled them back.
St. Joe's freshman Xzayvier Brown, left, drives on Kentucky's Tre Mitchell during Monday's game at Rupp Arena. (Mark Jordan/CoBL)
St. Joe’s came all the way back to take a 76-75 lead with 44 seconds left on a three by Cameron Brown. Tre Mitchell put the Wildcats back up before Christ Essandoko went 1-for-2 at the line to tie the game with 14 seconds to go. Mitchell, who matched freshman D.J. Wagner (Camden) with a team-high 22 points buried a pair of triples early in OT that separated the Wildcats in the extra frame.
“Kentucky is a great program, a great team, and I thought our guys played well enough to win,” Hawks coach Billy Lange said. “We didn’t, and that’s what we came here to do. There were two teams here tonight who were good enough to win, but only one can.”
The Hawks came out confident despite last weekend’s loss. They attacked the glass at every opportunity, exploiting the advantage they had in size, outrebounding Kentucky 42-37, which led to 16 second-chance points.
The biggest difference? The Hawks hit their 3-point shots Monday, making 15 out of 37 for 40.5% from beyond the arc. They were just 6-for-30 in the loss to Texas A&M-Commerce.
That was huge, and Kentucky head coach John Calipari made sure everyone knew it, “They made 15 threes, and some of them, we were on them,” he noted.
St. Joe’s star junior guard Erik Reynolds heated up after an ice cold night against Commerce, where he scored 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Reynolds led all scorers Monday with 28 points, shooting 6-for-12, 50%, from outside the 3-point line. Even when he’s double-teamed, he’s capable of still creating his shot and scoring it. And when he’s on, he elevates the entire team. He rounded out his stat line with three rebounds, five assists, and a steal.
St. Joe's junior Erik Reynolds, center, looks over to his coach as he dribbles the ball up the floor Monday against Kentucky at Rupp Arena. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Brown had 17 points, several of those points coming under heavy pressure and at critical moments, including the go-ahead three late. He also hauled in a clutch rebound with seconds left in regulation, possibly to give St. Joe’s a chance to draw up a miracle play. Instead on a night when the Hawks just didn’t seem to get a call to go their way, they couldn’t get the timeout they were screaming for as it seemed that everyone in the arena heard except it for the people who mattered.
“We were kinda lucky to get it to OT,” Calipari said. “We really were.”
Freshman Xzayvier Brown was also cool late in the game. The Roman Catholic product and his former high school teammate Anthony Finkley both got the start on the road.
X shot 50% from the field (60% from three) for 17 points, many of those coming down the stretch. He also grabbed six rebounds, snatched three steals and still found time to hand out six assists. Oh, and he logged 38 minutes without a single turnover.
The no turnovers was particularly impressive against a quick, fast Kentucky team that forced 10 steals and 14 turnovers in the game. Their defense created 28 points off the fast break. Yet, for all that, the Hawks were always breathing down their necks.
St. Joe’s didn’t need a perfect game to hang on the road with the nationally-ranked Wildcats. Instead, the Hawks showed what they could be by the end of the season.
“I’ll be shocked if, at the end of the season, this St. Joe’s team isn’t contending for their league’s title. Shocked,” Calipari said.