Montgomery’s physicality sets him apart in South Carolina win


Kentucky head coach John Calipari and Kentucky freshman forward EJ Montgomery talk during the game against Texas A&M on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 84-75. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

“EJ Montgomery’s going to have to play more…. You need to have separators in the game at some point that can make a play out of nothing. He does that,” Kentucky head Coach John Calipari said back in November after the Cats played North Dakota. Why mention that now? Because Montgomery totaled a double-double with 13 rebounds, 11 points, an assist, a block and a steal Tuesday night in UK’s 76-48 win over South Carolina.

The freshman had been averaging 13.7 minutes per game, but played a total of 20 on Tuesday against the Gamecocks– his most since the Wildcats defeated Monmouth at the end of November.

“He deserves the minutes he’s getting,” Calipari said. 

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin says Montgomery’s rebounding, rim protection and presence on the interior is what made him that “separator” of the game and has his own theory as to why the former McDonald’s All-American keeps progressing.

“I’m not at practice every day, but he’s got three guys on the front line, two of which started last year, that are both really good and a fifth-year senior,” Martin said. “So, I’m sure EJ keeps getting better because he is competing with those guys in practice.”

Montgomery says going against those guys (PJ Washington, Reid Travis, Nick Richards) in practice does nothing but get him ready for physical teams like South Carolina. He says being matched up with them every day is a challenge, but that it “gets him prepared.”

“It’s a good feeling when you put in all the hard work every day to come out and improve, and you do it,” Montgomery said.

Kentucky won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding the Gamecocks 50-27. On the offensive glass, the Cats grabbed 21 offensive boards, five of them coming from Montgomery, compared to South Carolina’s nine. Washington says he’s one of Montgomery’s “biggest fans,” and that he’s happy to see him play like the way he did tonight.

“He’s definitely physical. I mean, I guard him every day in practice, I know that for a fact. He’s a great player and his time is coming and I’m glad he was able to shine tonight,” Washington said.  

As Montgomery is starting to fill the role Calipari has envisioned for him, it’s likely that we’ll start seeing more of him as the season goes on.

“E.J. was really good. Double-double, active, playing hard, blocking shots. He’s starting to come around,” Calipari said. “This was a great game for him to prove it against a really physical team, that they’re going to get body-to-body on you. He was able to still get it done.”