Kentucky played Seton Hall in midtown Manhattan. Madison Square Garden, which is between 33rd and 31st streets, might be billed as “the world’s most famous arena,” but this game should have been on Broadway. It would have gotten rave reviews.
“I guess that was good fun for the fans,” UK Coach John Calipari said afterward. “It wasn’t so good for the losing coach.”
As basketball theatre goes, it would be hard to beat Seton Hall’s 84-83 overtime victory over Kentucky on Saturday. Heroes abounded. Each team delivered and absorbed psychological body blows.
An exchange of clutch shots in the final 1.5 seconds of the second half sent the game into overtime. Myles Cale made the game-winning shot with eight seconds left in OT. There was plenty of time for Kentucky to answer with yet another display of grace under pressure. But Kentucky faltered, leaving Keldon Johnson with an impromptu three-pointer from the top of the key that did not reach the rim.
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“Crazy,” PJ Washington said of being caught in a repeating whipsaw of emotion. “I mean, some shots you didn’t expect to go in, and then they go in. And you just go, like, ‘Wow. What do we do next?’”
Calipari saluted how his team fought back from body blows. “We made strides,” he said. “We’re a better team than we were two weeks ago.”
Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard voiced a similar sentiment. “What I like about this group more than anything is that they just stay,” he said. “They continue to work.”
The coaches also second-guessed decisions, complimented players’ heroics and lamented ill-timed mistakes.
“When I thought, ‘OK, we got them,’ they didn’t think that,” Calipari said of the opposing players. “They just kept fighting because it was they’re going to win-we’re going to win.
“‘Oh, maybe we got them. Oh, my gosh, they got it.’”
The first half served as a clever disguise for the riveting action to come. The teams combined to make only 16 of 50 shots. Each had more turnovers than assists: five and six for UK, four and 10 for Seton Hall.
Washington and Seton Hall’s leading scorer, Myles Powell, emerged from the debris of missed shots.
Washington scored a career-high 29 points and achieved his third double-double of the season with 13 rebounds.
Powell, who made only one of four shots in the first half, scored 25 of his team-high 28 points after halftime. Calipari described Powell’s six three-point baskets in the second half as game-changing. Or as the UK coach put it, “the kid goes crazy making threes.”
Kentucky contested Cale’s winning shot. Twice. Washington flew at Cale, forcing him to reload the shot. Nick Richards then approached his right hand high in the air. But he was too late to prevent the shot.
“We were trying to figure out as a staff how did he get that open?” Calipari said.
Washington explained. “We didn’t want No. 13 to shoot the ball,” he said, meaning Powell, who came into the game ranked 20th nationally with a scoring average of 22.4 points.
“So we sent two people at him,” Washington added. “And I kind of hedged over a little bit just in case he threw the ball (to the teammate) right next to him. And then he threw a skip (pass).”
Paying extra attention to Powell seemed prudent. His pull-up jumper over Immanuel Quickley with 1.1 seconds left in regulation put Seton Hall ahead 70-67.
But after the clock was re-set to 1.5 seconds, Keldon Johnson tied it with a heave from half court that swished.
UK failed to execute a replay of that kind of back and forth in overtime.
Calipari said Richards was supposed to set a screen in the middle of the floor. But he ran the sideline instead. Calipari said he came onto the court to try to re-direct Richards.
Calipari acknowledged that a timeout might have helped. But, he pointed out, coaches cannot call a timeout. A player must signal for a timeout.
“I told the team after the game, we fought,” Calipari said. “We fought. That was good. ... When you fight and you defend like we did in the first half, our team is going to be fine.
“I’m not discouraged in any way. I hate losing.”
Calipari agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that Kentucky, now 7-2, had just gone through a growth experience, however painful at the moment.
“We are going to be fine,” he said. “This is disappointing, heart-breaking. But you know what? If we had won, it would have been heart-breaking for them because they should have won.”
Utah at No. 9 Kentucky
5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)