UK Men's Basketball

No EJ, no problem as Nick Richards leads Kentucky in rout of EKU

Nate Sestina suggested the way Kentucky should handle playing three nights after defeated No. 1 Michigan State to start the season.

“We need to stay upbeat and stay positive throughout the entire game,” he said of Friday night’s home opener against Eastern Kentucky. “Everybody makes runs. Things happen. You’re going to miss shots. But if we can play for 40 minutes like we did against Michigan State against other teams (good things will happen).”

That’s pretty well describes UK’s 91-49 victory over Eastern Kentucky.

Nick Richards loomed large in the blowout. He led UK with 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. That was his second career double-double. He also blocked four shots, one shy of the career-high five he had against Kansas last season.

UK Coach John Calipari explained on Thursday what a good game for Richards would look like.

Richards would out-run the ball on offense and defense and “play every shot like it’s going to be missed,” Calipari said. “And then we will watch him in the NBA and be the next guy to go off the charts.”

And, Calipari added, if Richards had made three or four more hook shots against Michigan State, “who’s better than him?”

Richards looked dominant against Eastern Kentucky. He made hook shots. He caught lobs in and out of transition and converted.

Richards’ play came in handy because UK announced before the game that EJ Montgomery would not play. Montgomery injured an ankle in the game against Michigan State and will be checked daily by medical staffers, UK said.

Sestina chipped in a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Calipari offered pregame words of caution about dealing with EKU’s pressing, scrambling playing style. That problem did not material.

Kentucky led 46-25 at halftime. The first half wasn’t that close.

UK scored the game’s first 14 points. EKU did not score in the first seven minutes. The Colonels committed five straight turnovers before the first TV timeout and had 12 in the first half.

That brought to life something EKU Coach A.W. Hamilton said Thursday when asked about his team’s 24 turnovers in its opening-game victory over Chattanooga.

“If we turn the ball over 24 times tomorrow, we’re going to get beat by 50 points,” he said.

That seemed possible when Kentucky made five of its first seven shots in peeling out that 14-0 lead.

Richards was active early twice scoring on baby hooks in the lane.

For those needing a nit to pick, Kentucky made only two of its first six free throws. Or there was the timeout UK Coach John Calipari called with 9:13 left. What prompted the timeout with Kentucky up 21-7 was EKU scoring in transition despite Calipari repeatedly waving an arm to signal his players to get back on defense.

Coincidentally or not, Kentucky’s seemingly perfect execution against EKU’s press on the next possession resulted in two free throws.

Eastern Kentucky’s pressing, uptempo style, which Calipari had said would give his team a new challenge, never had an impact. UK outscored EKU 24-5 in fast-break points in the first half.

Kentucky got sloppy late in the half. Three straight UK turnovers helped Eastern Kentucky go on an 8-0 mini run that reduced the gap to 37-23.

After another Calipari timeout, Kentucky scored the next nine points.

Intermission brought no change.

Kentucky outscored EKU 22-4 to start the second half. Richards contributed three baskets to the spree. He caught a lob and laid it in. He posted up for a score and then made a sky hook that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could have been proud to claim.

Next game

Evansville at No. 2 Kentucky

7 p.m. Tuesday (SEC Network)

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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