Date story was published: Saturday, December 22, 1984
Ed Davender learned he was in the starting lineup only minutes before last night's tip-off.
The freshman's reaction?
"I thought, 'Oh, Lord,' " Davender said.
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Thereafter, it was his Kentucky teammates and a Rupp Arena crowd of 21,300 that were pleasantly surprised as Davender pumped in 27 points to lead Kentucky to a 69-54 victory over East Tennessee State in the University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament.
Besides snapping a four-game losing streak, last night's victory pushed the Wildcats within a game of a school-record sixth straight UKIT championship.
UK, 2-4, will play Cincinnati, a 63-56 winner over James Madison in last night's other first-round game, for the tournament title tonight.
The championship game will be a rematch - the Cats hope it is not a replay - of UK's controversial 24-11 victory at Cincinnati last season.
Cincinnati coach Tony Yates will have to keep his promise of not playing a complete stall because the game will have a 45-second shot clock.
"We'll work the clock," Yates said. "Against some zones you can't fire away from 20 feet and be consistently successful."
UK reached the finals by outlasting an East Tennessee team that showed little effect from Sunday's crash landing of their charter airplane.
Until the final nine minutes, the Bucs stayed within 12 points of UK.
"This was an extremely important victory," said Bret Bearup, who added 13 points for Kentucky. "If we wanted to have any kind of successful season, we needed it. It was the most important game of the season as far as I was concerned."
It didn't take Davender long to give UK a boost. The 6-foot-2 rookie guard hit his first shot, a perimeter jumper, 35 seconds into the game and never seemed to cool off.
"I hit the first one and all the pre-game jitters went out of the way," Davender said. "Roger (Harden) kept telling me to look for my shot. I wasn't going to ignore him."
Davender hit nine of 15 shots from the field and nine of 10 free throws in his best game as a collegian.
"I'm not surprised at all," Bearup said of Davender's game. "He can light it up, boy. He gets in a groove."
Davender started in place of Paul Andrews. Kentucky coach Joe Hall said he started Davender because Andrews had been hesitant to shoot.
"We thought coming off the bench would relax Paul," Hall said. "So we made the change to Ed and he really came through for us."
After UK had built its lead to 15 (57-42) with 8:52 remaining, East Tennessee closed to within seven (57-50). The Bucs had two chances to cut into the lead further.
When the visitors couldn't, UK was able to build its lead back to 15.
"We found out tonight we can win," East Tennessee coach Barry Dowd said. ''To go through what we did and to bounce back with a game like this shows courage. I am proud of them."
With Davender scoring 16 points, Kentucky forged a 35-30 halftime lead.
Davender's previous season high was only six points (against Indiana). But Davender looked as if he had been a starter for all of his freshman year in the game's first 20 minutes.
Two three-point plays helped Davender reach double figures with 12:32 remaining in the half. The first three-point play featured a behind-the-back dribble on the fast break. The second was a double-clutching jumper from 10 feet that left East Tennessee's James Tandy hugging air.
Another jumper by Davender pushed UK out to a 20-12 lead, the Cats' largest margin in the early going.
"That is what Kentucky had to do, hit from the outside, to win," Dowd said. "We wanted to keep the inside shut down."
But East Tennessee hung tough.
Guard Wes Stallings, a 5-11 junior, did the most damage for the visitors, who wore white uniforms because their "away" uniforms were burned in the crash.
Stallings finished with 22 points. His biggest bucket of the first half may have come in the final 30 seconds.
UK had taken a 35-26 lead, its largest margin of the half, when East Tennessee called time with 55 seconds remaining.
With the 45-second shot clock dwindling down inside five seconds, Stallings drove to the baseline and hit a jumper over UK freshman Todd Ziegler.
The Bucs got another quick basket when Tandy stole the inbounds pass and laid it home with eight seconds remaining to set the halftime score.
"The thing that bothered me the most about this game," Hall said, "was that we didn't play with the intensity or unity that we have been showing, particularly in the Louisville and SMU games."
A Davender jumper pushed UK's lead to 57-42 with 8:52 remaining. The freshman hit five of six free throws in the final 3 1/2 minutes to secure the victory.
"Against SMU (in Davender's only other previous start) I came out a little tight," Davender said. "I think I learned from that. I found out I was starting that game two or three days before and it kind of stayed on my mind."
Davender had been averaging only 2.8 points and 13.2 minutes a game until last night.
"I don't mean this as a knock against East Tennessee, but we were playing some tough teams (earlier this season)," Davender said. "I was coming out too tight, trying to do too much.
"Now, I'm more confident than I've ever been."