It was a homecoming of sorts for Eastern Kentucky's Dan McHale, who led his team into Rupp against a Wildcats team that was still steamed from a loss to UCLA its last time out. EKU put up a strong effort but lost 88-67.
McHale served as a student manager under Tubby Smith as an undergrad for four years and worked under the legendary Bill Keightley as well.
JaVontae Hawkins led a tough effort in the second half, and scored 19 points while adding 5 rebounds and 5 assists, as Jarelle Reischel struggled with foul trouble.
EKU trailed by single digits with less than eight minutes to go but UK responded and pulled away as things grinded down a finish.
The Colonels initially fell behind as a result of failing to keep UK off the rim. The Wildcats' first 12 points were at the rim on either layups or dunks and they piled up a quick 10-point lead. EKU plugged away and kept the pressure on Kentucky while simultaneously throwing a 2-3 zone at Coach John Calipari's squad that did a better job for a few minutes of keeping UK away from the bucket and making passing around the perimeter instead of inside. The press that EKU employed, which McHale learned coaching under Bluegrass "favorite" Rick Pitino, was able to get Kentucky a bit off beat at times as the Wildcats turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and 17 times in the game.
EKU pulled within a couple buckets after a timeout by responding with jumpers from JaVontae Hawkins and Paul Jackson. The ensuing Kentucky timeout spelled bad news for the Colonels. Coming out of the timeout, Kentucky tallied 8 points on its next three possessions, with Jamal Murray and Tyler Ullis banging home treys to extend Kentucky's lead back to 14.
The Colonels battled in the second half despite the fact that Reischel picked up his fourth foul with about 15 minutes to go in the game. Hawkins willed the Colonels with a 5-0 run of his own to make it 69-60 with 8:19 to go before a Marcus Lee jumper made the deficit double digits again. UK then proceeded to pull away.
The 67 points were the lowest total for EKU since a 78-57 lost to UNC Wilmington in its second game of the year. The Colonels were overwhelmed at times by Kentucky's size and athleticism. That was most measurable in UK's 25+ rebound advantage (50-25). Paul Jackson and Nick Mayo added point totals of 10 and 9 respectively while Reischel finished with 12.
Alex Poythress put up his best point total since his freshman year with a 21-point night. In his inaugural season in Lexington, Poythress posted six 20-point games.
EKU could definitely have benefitted from better results beyond the arc. The Colonels ended the night with a 5-18 performance from 3-point land. The Colonels didn't receive a lot of contributions of the bench to speak of, combining for just 12 points, not great for a team that is reliant on a bench that plays plenty of minutes due to their fast-paced play.
EKU is now 7-3 and has a chance to get back on the winning side of things against Marshall.