By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel
It’s rare that one player virtually beats a team by himself, especially in Division I basketball. Saturday, Texas A&M senior Elston Turner’s 40-point performance might have done it, as the Aggies came into Rupp Arena and beat UK 83-71 in the Cats SEC home opener.
“This is something I’ve wanted for my whole life,” Turner said. “To play Kentucky, to get an opportunity to play one of the premier teams in the country. This is by far the best performance I’ve ever had.”
A&M held a lead for much of the game, fueled by Turner’s 25 first half points. A combination of freshmen forwards Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein guarded Turner early, but UK head coach John Calipari knew he had to make a change at half with the Aggies up five.
“He shot the ball well and he got good looks,” Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said. “Kentucky is young and you can see it and fortunately we were able to take advantage.”
A hafltime adjustment to place freshman guard Archie Goodwin on Turner was largely successful. The Cats were able to keep the game close, and ultimately amassed a run that led to a 62-58 lead with just over six minutes to play.
But, as Rupp got to its loudest point, the Aggies responded. Turner hit two deep threes to regain the lead, and his team never looked back, finishing the game on a 25-9 run and quickly turned the game into a comfortable road win.
“It was a four-point game with four minutes to go,” Calipari said. “We were fine. Then we took all kinds of chances of defense and we took some bad plays on offense and all of the sudden, you’re reeling.”
It was the second game in a row the Cats allowed a big run late in the game. They were able to recover against Vanderbilt, but this time they had no answer.
“It’s very frustrating,” Goodwin said. “We’ve got to continue to work on game time situations like that. These are the ones that we can’t lose.”
Freshman center Nerlens Noel has done a little bit of everything for his team this season. Saturday, albeit it in a losing effort, he took it to a different level. Noel finished the game with 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks, six assists and four steals, a stat line that hasn’t been duplicated in college basketball since the 1996-97 season, according to ESPN.
“Noel played very good,” Goodwin said. “It was the only reason we stayed in the game, with his effort on defense and offense. He really stepped up for us tonight.”
The Cats have little time to reflect on the loss as they will have another quick turnaround. With Tennessee coming into Rupp on Tuesday, the third game in six days for UK, Calipari has to try to turn the game into a learning tool.
“This is a young team trying to learn,” Calipari said. “This team has not been able to stop the bleeding. We’ve talked about it, but now we’re going to have to address it again.”