History lesson: Meeks breaks school records as Cats thump Vols

Jodie Meeks, a junior guard, finished his historic night with 54 points, breaking Dan Issel’s 53-point record that stood for just under 39 years.

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With 8:02 left in the second half of UK’s 90-72 win against Tennessee, UK coach Billy Gillispie turned to junior Jodie Meeks, who was huffing and puffing on the Cats bench.

“Do you want to go or do you want to wait?” Gillispie said.

Meeks didn’t say a word as he ran to the scorer’s table, implying to the coach that he chose the first option. At that time, Meeks had already dropped 40 points on the Vols’ defense.

Twelve points and 6:31 of game-time later, Meeks toed the free throw line for two attempts. He drilled both shots, and just like that, Meeks became the highest single-game scorer in the program’s 106-year history.

Those two free throws capped Meeks’s barrage. The junior finished his historic night with 54 points, breaking Dan Issel’s 53-point record that stood for just under 39 years.

“To be in the same sentence as Dan Issel and Kentucky legends like that, it means a lot,” Meeks said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling to me.”

Meeks hit 15 of his 22 shot attempts in the game, including 10-of-15 from 3-point range — a school record for 3-pointers made in a game. Despite Meeks’ unparalleled performance, Gillispie was proud of Meeks’ composure as he approached the record.

“The best thing about it — well, the best thing about it is he scored 54 — but one of the greatest things was when Jodie took a shot with about two or three minutes left,” Gillispie said. “It wasn’t the greatest shot in the world and he looked at the bench and said, ‘My fault.’ That’s the kind of person he is. He’s just a great person and it was an unbelievable performance.”

By halftime, Meeks had already scored 26. At the time, the Cats were clinging to a 41-37 lead after the Vols closed the half on a 9-2 run. Faced with a bit of adversity in just their third road game of the year, the Cats collected their composure in the locker room and opened the second half on a 12-4 run. Meeks had 10 of those points.

“We tried to deny Jodie Meeks the basketball, but to show how pitiful we were, Meeks did anything he wanted to do,” Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said. “We tried to guard him as a team, but we were not able to get anything done.”

With 8:30 left in the game, the Vols had one last push. Behind junior Tyler Smith’s team-high 19 points, Tennessee marched on a quick 11-3 run to close the gap to seven points. Meeks’s answer: nine straight points on three 3-pointers, and one swift nail to the coffin.

“Tennessee felt like they had us on the back of our heels, but Jodie stepped up in crunch time,” sophomore Patrick Patterson said. “He was able to come off a couple of screens, get the ball where he needed to get the ball. He was open, he was on fire and his shots were falling.”

Even though Gillispie said that Meeks’ outburst caught him off guard, he admitted Meeks hustles and works hard like that in practice every day. But when Meeks was catching his breath on the bench with just over eight minutes to play and Gillispie asked him that question, Gillispie said he knew what to expect.

“It is amazing,” Gillispie said. “He doesn’t look like he ever gets tired.”

not suprized at all ! i knew what a great player j.m. was before he got sidelined. if he return’s next year, we will be very fortunate, and if he doesn’t…. he will make a fortune ! my oppinion, he is the next l.j. or m.j. only better !