Sidelines with John Clay

SEC basketball opening night features road wins and lots of points

Georgia guard J.J. Frazier drives the ball to the basket against Auburn guard T.J. Dunans during the first half of the Bulldogs’ road win on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, in Auburn, Ala.
Georgia guard J.J. Frazier drives the ball to the basket against Auburn guard T.J. Dunans during the first half of the Bulldogs’ road win on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Associated Press

So much for all that talk that once SEC play arrived, the pace would slow, the points would drop and we’d be subjected to grind-it-out games.

That’s not what happened Thursday in the first night of conference play. Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt all scored over 90 points in winning on the road. In fact, all five home teams lost on opening night.

UK’s win at Mississippi featured 163 possessions between the two teams. Georgia and Auburn had 156 possessions between the two. Vanderbilt and LSU played at a slower pace (142 possessions) but both teams made the most of their offensive opportunities by shooting over 50 percent.

Tennessee turned in the top defensive performance of the night, winning at Texas A&M. The host Aggies prefer a slower pace, but Tennessee showed discipline on defense, forcing the home team into 16 turnovers.

Here’s a roundup of Thursday’s play:

Kentucky 99, Ole Miss 76: You probably already know the essentials. Malik Monk scored 34 points. Isaiah Briscoe achieved the third triple-double in program history and the second this year -- the sophomore scored 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and made 11 assists -- as John Calipari ran his record to 7-1 in SEC openers.

Cooling off after a 60-point first half, Kentucky ended up averaging 1.201 points per possession. That was a notable improvement over the 0.949 averaged in last week’s loss at Louisville. Ole Miss averaged 0.937 points per possession. Andy Kennedy’s team shot just 37.5 percent from the floor. The Rebels were just six-of-22 from beyond the arc.

(Kentucky basketball individual game-by-game stats in a Google doc)

Florida 81, Arkansas 72: KeVaughn Allen, an Arkansas native, made a successful return to his home state, scoring 21 points to lead the Gators to a road win over the Hogs. Devin Robinson added 17 points for Mike White’s team, which improved to 10-3 on the year. John Egbunu came off the bench to grab 11 rebounds.

Arkansas dropped to 11-2 on the season despite 22 points from Daryl Macon and 14 rebounds by Moses Kingsley. Arkansas turned it over 13 times while only forcing nine Florida turnovers. The Razorbacks shot 41 percent and averaged 0.993 points per possession. Florida shot 44.8 percent and averaged 1.158 ppp.

Georgia 96, Auburn 84: Malik Monk is probably the leader for SEC Player of the Year honors, but Georgia’s Yante Maten has to be in the discussion. The Bulldogs’ forward scored 31 points, hitting 10 of 19 shots and going nine-for-nine from the free throw line as Mark Fox’s team rallied from a 51-43 halftime deficit by averaging 1.214 points per possesion to win at Auburn.

Despite not making a three-pointer, J.J. Frazier scored 27 points and made five steals for the winners. Mark Fox’s team shot 51.7 percent and made 29 of 38 free throws. Auburn got 19 points from Mustapha Heron but it had to be a disappointing way for Bruce Pearl’s team to open conference play. The Tigers averaged 1.093 points per possession and still lost.

Tennessee 73, Texas A&M 63: Continuing the trend of road wins on opening night, Rick Barnes’ Volunteers invaded College Station and knocked off the host Aggies behind a defensive effort that held Texas A&M to 34.4 percent shooting.

The Vols averaged 1.030 points per possession, but held Billy Kennedy’s team to just 0.895 points per possession. Tonny Trocha-Morales made just one of nine shots. Tyler Davis was but three-of-nine from the floor. Admon Gilder missed eight of his 13 shots as A&M dropped to 8-4. Tennessee, which played a killer non-conference schedule, is now 8-5.

Vanderbilt 96, LSU 89: The Commodores made it a perfect night for the road teams by winning in Baton Rouge. Riley LaChance scored 24 points. Matthew Fisher-Davis added 23 as new Vandy coach Bryce Drew won his SEC debut in large part to a record three-point shooting night. The ‘Dores were 16-of-32 from beyond the arc.

LSU continues to be a defensive mess. After giving up 110 points in a 34-point loss at Wake Forest last week, the Tigers watched Vanderbilt average 1.345 points per possession. LSU got 24 points from Antonio Blakeney, shot 57.4 percent from the floor, made 17 of 28 threes for 60.7 percent and still lost. Turnovers had something to do with that. While Vandy turned it over on 15.4 percent of its possessions, LSU turned it over on 21.2 percent of its possessions.

SEC basketball standings

Team

W

L

Next

Opponent

Florida

1

0

Tue

Ole Miss

Georgia

1

0

Wed

S Carolina

Kentucky

1

0

Tue

Texas A&M

Tennessee

1

0

Tue

Arkansas

Vanderbilt

1

0

Wed

Auburn

Alabama

0

0

Tue

@Miss St

Miss State

0

0

Tue

Alabama

Missouri

0

0

Wed

LSU

South Carolina

0

0

Wed

@Georgia

Arkansas

0

1

Tue

@Tennessee

Auburn

0

1

Wed

@Vanderbilt

LSU

0

1

Wed

@Missouri

Ole Miss

0

1

Tue

@Florida

Texas A&M

0

1

Tue

@Kentucky

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