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By David Schuh | @KernelSchuh
For months, UK head coach John Calipari has pleaded for sophomore guard Ryan Harrow to take control of his team. Saturday afternoon, it appeared he finally did.
Harrow had a career-best 23 points to go along with four assists as UK beat Marshall 82-54 in front of a season-high 24,271 fans at Rupp Arena.
“We got way better,” Calipari said. “That’s what we needed. We needed a team that would play that way.”
Marshall is an athletic team, and came out matching the Cats tempo. UK got plenty of good shots, but struggled to get much to fall, finishing the first half shooting 35 percent from the field and just 1-11 from behind the arc.
The Thundering Herd, however, also struggled, particularly inside against UK’s frontcourt. They entered halftime only 8-29 from the field, and the Cats held a 33-24 lead.
That could have been much closer had it not been for a strong offensive half from Harrow, who led all scorers at the break with 11 points.
“When he’s playing the right way – with aggressiveness, talking to his teammates…he’s as good as anybody in the country right now,” Calipari said.
In what has been a theme all season, the Cats came out slow to start the seconcd half. Marshall scored seven points in the first minute of the stanza, but their run stopped there.
UK responded with a 25-6 run of their own and blew the game open. The Cats began to finally hit some shots, including two threes from sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer. They never stopped from there, and kept the lead over 20 for the rest of the game.
“I thought they were much more active,” Marshall head coach Tom Herrion said of UK compared to previous games. “They played at a physical level tonight which is going to be helpful for them as they move on in their season. They’re going to get better and better.”
Freshman center Nerlens Noel recorded his first career double-double, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“They all made strides,” Calipari said. “We’re starting to get into each other now versus into ourselves, and it’s nice to see.”
Marshall was led by junior Covington, Ky., native Elijah Pittman. A member of the 2009 Holmes High School state champions, Pittman led the Herd with 20 points.
As the last of a series of games against lesser teams on paper, Calipari saw a lot of the things he had been waiting on before heading to Louisville next weekend. And with seven days to rest and prepare, he has his team in a confident spot.
“We’re just going to play our game,” Harrow said. “As long as we play our game, we’ll be alright.”