Isaac Humphries was going to be Kentucky’s hero.
Pressed into major minutes in a rugged, pressure-packed duel with Texas A&M, the 7-foot, 260-pound freshman from Down Under performed like a champ.
In a game in which UK was getting killed on the offensive glass, Humphries grabbed 12 boards in 20 minutes.
The last one of his boards, coming with 9.4 left in overtime and UK leading 76-75, appeared to be the play that might have clinched a gutty Kentucky road victory.
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In that moment, no one would have conceived that Humphries was only minutes away from saying ‘Sorry’ to anyone who would listen in the Wildcats locker room. Or that A&M’s Jalen Jones would be saying “thanks to the dude on the other team. He helped us win the game.”
Texas A&M (20-7, 9-5 SEC) beat No. 14 Kentucky 79-77 in overtime on freshman Tyler Davis’ putback milliseconds before the final buzzer, thrilling most of a Reed Arena crowd of 12,029.
For UK (20-7, 10-4), the ending was difficult to take due to a technical foul called on Humphries after he grabbed what might — might — have otherwise been the game-clinching rebound and was fouled.
In celebration, Humphries spiked the basketball with authority. It bounded high into the air and down the floor.
Lip readers thought they almost immediately saw Humphries saying “Sorry, sorry.”
Official Pat Adams nevertheless called a technical foul on Humphries.
Rather than Humphries going to the line with a chance to put UK up three, the technical foul went as his fifth personal, eliminating him from the game.
A&M’s Danuel House went to the line and sank both free throws to push the Aggies ahead 77-76.
Because Humphries had fouled out, Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy got to choose someone off the Kentucky bench to shoot his free throws.
A&M chose another UK freshman big man, Skal Labissiere.
Labissiere made the first one, missed the second, and the Aggies won on Davis’ buzzer-beating putback.
After the game, what had been a terrific basketball game turned into a debate over the technical foul call.
A caveat: Had the technical foul not been called, Kentucky still might not have won the game. There were still 9.4 seconds left. Humphries might have missed one or both fouls shots.
Even had he hit both, A&M still had ample time to tie.
That said, it was hard not to think an official punished a player for showing excitement after a crucial play when better refereeing judgment would have been shown by looking away.
That was certainly what Kentucky Coach John Calipari thought.
“He was celebrating. He was so happy,” Calipari said of Humphries. “There was no disrespect to anybody. If that’s what they choose to call, what are you going to do?”
ESPN college hoops analyst Seth Greenberg
tweeted “that action was not unsportsmanlike and after speaking to a number of officials, the feeling is you pass on that call.”
Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy, who had been teed up earlier in the game for protesting a call, said “I thought both technicals were very, very tough.”
What made the reversal of late-game fortune for Humphries so jarring was he had played so well.
With UK already absent starting forward Alex Poythress due to injury, it lost another starting big man, Derek Willis, to an ankle injury in the second half. After the game, Calipari said he’d heard Willis’ injury was “a bad ankle sprain.”
Then, late in the contest, Marcus Lee, Kentucky’s only other experience post player, fouled out.
Even with Willis, UK was demolished on the offensive glass in the first half by a physically mature A&M team. At halftime, the tally was 15 offensive boards by the Aggies and one by the Wildcats.
It was a minor miracle UK led 36-35 at the half anyway.
Yet thrust into an important league game on the road in a contest where things were not going Kentucky’s way under the basket, Humphries stood tall.
He threw his big body around with abandon. He hit a jump shot, got a putback and, with 1:50 left in overtime, he made two pressure-packed free throws.
In 20 minutes, he finished with six points, 12 rebounds, two blocked shots — and a technical foul for excessive celebration at the worst possible time.
That ‘T’ helped negate the brilliance of the UK backcourt — Tyler Ulis had 22 points and played all 45 minutes. Jamal Murray had 22, and Isaiah Briscoe scored 11 points and claimed six rebounds.
Long after the game was over, Ulis said Humphries was in the Kentucky locker room apologizing to everybody.
On Twitter, the Australian big man simply wrote, “I will learn from this.”
Not putting yourself in a position where a referee’s call can hurt you seemed a tough lesson for Humphries to have to learn on a night when he had played so well.
“It was a heck of a basketball game,” Calipari said. “I just hated how it was decided.”