No. 22 Kentucky 57, Miami (Ohio) 46
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Kentucky found a way to win—plus a young, bona fide shot-blocker in the process.
Freshman forward Perry Stevenson swatted seven shots and No. 22 Kentucky scored the final 10 points of the game to pull away from Miami of Ohio 57-46 Wednesday night in its season opener.
“He gave us what we needed,” forward Bobby Perry said of the 6-foot-9 freshman. “I’ve seen him block shots and play the way he did tonight all of the time.”
Despite Stevenson’s play, things got uncomfortable for the Wildcats late. Two free throws by Nathan Peavy cut the Kentucky edge to 47-46 with four minutes left—leaving the Rupp Arena crowd a little nervous.
“You always have that going through your mind,” said junior Ramel Bradley, who made his first career regular season start at point guard. “This is college basketball and a lot of crazy things happen.”
But Bradley hit a jumper in traffic and Randolph Morris made two free throws, then scored from the post to stretch it back to a seven-point deficit.
“We’ll learn a lot from this game,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.
Joe Crawford led the Wildcats with 18 points. Morris added a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, all on defense. But Morris gave much of the credit to Stevenson.
“It was amazing to watch him and observe him,” Morris said.
Kentucky got off to a sluggish start, making only two of its first 11 shots while Miami (0-2) hit six of its first 11, including four from 3-point range.
An open 3 by center Monty St. Clair midway through the half capped a 13-3 run for the RedHawks, who took their biggest lead at 16-6. Peavy led the RedHawks with 17.
“We have a tendency to come out flat,” Morris said. “As crazy as this is, we play better when behind.”
Kentucky didn’t reach double-digits on the scoreboard for 13 minutes, until Crawford hit a jumper to cut the lead to 18-10. The junior guard connected on five of 12 shots—including three from long-range.
The Wildcats got back into the game with a 16-3 run in the final three minutes of the first half.
Freshman guard Jodie Meeks tied it at 27 by grabbing Bradley’s miss and scoring on the putback. Crawford made a 3-pointer and added a free throw on the next possession to give Kentucky a 31-27 halftime lead.
A layup by Morris early in the second half gave Kentucky its 10-point lead, but fouls and turnovers kept the RedHawks in it. Morris picked up his fourth foul, making him a non-factor for much of the second half.
Miami kept it close despite hitting only 31 percent of its shots—and 16 percent in the second half.
“I hope our kids feel like they could have won this game, and I hope they’re a little disappointed that we didn’t,” Miami coach Charlie Coles said.
Kentucky played the game without two key players. Senior forward Sheray Thomas was suspended for an undisclosed rules violation and sophomore center Jared Carter is out with a dislocated right shoulder.
Carter hurt himself in practice and could miss about a month. His injury was part of the reason Kentucky coach Tubby Smith opted to start Stevenson.
The team’s two healthy centers, Morris and Lukasz Obrzut, have been prone to foul trouble, and Smith didn’t want to risk a quick exit for either.