Evansville pulled off the biggest upset of the young season on Tuesday, going into Rupp Arena and knocking off Kentucky, 67-64.
You read that right. The Purple Aces beat the No. 1 team in the country — the team that just beat Michigan State at Madison Square Garden a few days ago.
Evansville head coach Walter McCarty, a member of Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team, is in his second year and coming off an 11-21 season. You could be forgiven for sleeping on his group.
The Wildcats were 25-point favorites on KenPom and in Vegas, but K.J. Riley scored 18 points and Sam Cunliffe had 15 more to guide Evansville to the upset. The Purple Aces had a 38-35 advantage on the boards.
Kentucky started the game sluggishly, and Evansville took advantage immediately. A few sloppy turnovers allowed the visitors to gain confidence, and after 15 minutes they led 24-16. The Purple Aces were then able to settle into a methodical gameplan based on excellent defensive organization.
Because of this, the Wildcats never got into an offensive rhythm. They shot 4-of-17 from three-point range and had a 6:13 assist-to-turnover ratio. Evansville had its own issues with Kentucky’s defense, but they were reliably able to manufacture buckets from Sam Cunliffe, Deandre Williams, and K.J. Riley. Cunliffe poured in 15 in the first half. Williams and Riley came alive in the second period in impressive fashion, forcing their way to the basket and stemming any Kentucky comeback.
Frankly, Kentucky was straight-up outplayed. They were losing at halftime and only held the lead for 15 seconds in the second half. The Purple Aces were deftly able to shut down any game-breaking Kentucky runs. A Noah Frederking corner three put Evansville up 61-55 with 4:37 left, at which point thousands of people across America tuned into SEC Network to see if they could close it out. Even as things got tight down the stretch—Evansville had three shot clock violations late in the game—the Purple Aces were able to keep Kentucky’s vaunted crew at arm’s length. Cunliffe hit two clutch free throws to put them up three with 6 seconds left, and Kentucky’s desperation heave ultimately fell short.
This is so wild. Kentucky had not experienced the epitome of brutality by losing a game to a mid-major in the Calipari Era. They were also the No. 1 team in the country and had just taken down Michigan State. But enough about those guys, obviously this is the biggest win for Evansville in years and a signature moment in Walter McCarty’s coaching career. This is also Evansville’s first-ever win against a No. 1 team, a historic moment for this storied program. Thanks to, er, beating the No. 1 team in the country, Evansville has immediately set itself apart in a crowded MVC.
It was great!
evansville basketball is back pic.twitter.com/yT933bIZ8R— Harry Lyles Jr. (@harrylylesjr) November 13, 2019
Be sure to heap praise on this guy who has been trying to tell us to watch out for Evansville. He is now our editor in chief:
This was crazy!