UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky’s victory over Michigan State a coming out party for Maxey

Nick Richards returned. The memory of last season’s opening-night loss to Duke faded further into irrelevance.

But freshman Tyrese Maxey’s coming out party was the story line of Kentucky’s 69-62 victory over No. 1 Michigan State on Tuesday in the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden.

Maxey, who came off the bench, led UK with 26 points. That broke the opening-game record for a UK player in John Calipari’s 11 seasons as coach. Terrence Jones scored 25 against East Tennessee State to begin the 2010-11 season.

None of Maxey’s points were bigger than a three-pointer with 59.9 seconds left. A onetime 13-point UK lead was down to 62-60.

Richards, who had not played since spraining an ankle in UK’s first exhibition game, contributed five points and four rebounds.

Richards’ health is considered key for Kentucky this season.

“He’s going to have to have a breakout season this year for Kentucky,” ESPN analyst LaPhonso Ellis said of Richards.

Before the game, another ESPN analyst, Seth Greenberg, referenced Richards’ wavering confidence.

“The big thing with Nick is when things go south, he has self-doubt,” Greenberg said. “When you take the next step (in development), you don’t have that self-doubt. You get to the next play and you know the next play will be the right play.”

Michigan State, which was No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll for the first time in program history, played shorthanded. Senior guard Joshua Langford is sidelined until at least January.

The first half saw the teams combine for more turnovers and more fouls than baskets. The count was 18 turnovers (eight by UK) and 26 fouls (14 by Michigan State). Each team had eight baskets on a combined 30.8% shooting accuracy.

But one set of numbers at halftime looked good for Kentucky: UK led 34-24.

Kentucky trailed for only 36 seconds in the half and took the lead for good on an EJ Montgomery layup with 18:23 remaining.

Cassius Winston kept Michigan State in the game. He accounted for nine straight Spartan points to tie the score at 18-18.

Then Maxey had a flurry of his own. His three-pointer and two free throws capped a personal run of seven straight points that gave Kentucky a 23-18 lead.

Kentucky outscored Michigan State 7-1 in the half’s final 3:10 to set the halftime score. Immanuel Quickley got the fast finish started with a pull-up three-pointer as the shot clock ticked to its final five seconds.

Four free throws set by Maxey set the halftime score.

Kentucky’s defensive effort made Michigan State’s offense labor much of the half. The Spartans had one basket in more than five minutes early, and didn’t reach double-digit points until Winston made two free throws with 11:06 left.

As the second half began, Michigan State took the initiative. A fast-break layup set up by an Ashton Hagans turnover reduced the lead to 34-28 and prompted a timeout with 18:08 left.

The fear of Hagans getting in early foul trouble guarding Winston did not materialize. Hagans’ first foul came with 17:18 to go.

Maxey and Hagans helped Kentucky blunt a Michigan State rally that reduced the lead to 39-36. Maxey a three-pointer.

Then after a Michigan State turnover, Hagans fed a fast-break pass that a high-rising Richards dunked to put UK ahead 44-36.

A three-pointer by Kahlil Whitney put UK ahead 51-41. Then Sestina hit a three-pointer as a trailer. That gave Kentucky its largest lead, 54-41, and prompted a Michigan State timeout.

The Spartans reduced UK’s lead to 54-48. But then Winston picked up his fourth foul with 7:57 left.

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Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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