Busted nose and all, Jacob Toppin gave UK energy in win over Vandy


Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) looks up at the scoreboard during the UK vs. Vanderbilt SEC Tournament quarterfinals mens basketball game on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. UK won 77-71. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

TAMPA, Fla.—Masked Jacob Toppin just might be that final character that the Kentucky basketball cast needed to unlock to reach full potential. 

Yes, it was just 10 points, according to the box score. What Toppin brought to the Cats on Friday night was so much more than that, possible broken nose and all.

His efficiency, energy and defensive effort played a major part in Kentucky squeezing by Vanderbilt 77-71 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, not to mention some big buckets in crunch time.

“What he did for us on defense was phenomenal. He brings that for us every game. He is always rebounding. He is just an energy guy for us. For him to make those big baskets and big moments when we needed them, that was pretty good,” TyTy Washington said.

While it was Washington and Tshiebwe peppering the box score, Toppin’s 10 points, three blocks, two rebounds and an assist were as vital as anything Kentucky received on Friday.

After getting a bloody nose in the first half, Toppin returned from the locker room with a face mask after halftime. 

Even with a busted sniffer, Toppin kept his energy high on the court. Sure, it made some of his talking a bit harder to understand, but he was talking nonetheless. 

“His energy, his presence, he was talking, even with a face mask. You can barely understand it, but you know he was saying something,” Sahvir Wheeler said.

Toppin got laid into by head coach John Calipari in the first half after he air-balled a 3-pointer, which according to Wheeler, helped rejuvenate the junior on the task at hand:

“He took coaching, took constructive criticism, took that with him on the offensive end, and defensively, he was the anchor in that second half. Being able to switch and being able to talk out the actions and contest and blocking shots, coming from the weak side and finishing possessions for us on the defensive end as well.”

Safe to say that Toppin didn’t shoot another 3-pointer for the remainder of the night. Instead, he got to the rack and found his shot from the midrange. 

Kentucky has fell in love with the deep ball at times this season, just another thing on Calipari’s list of reasons as to why he wants to pull his hair out.

“Coach got on [Toppin] early in the first half and was, like, ‘why shoot an air ball three when you can step in and make midrange, 75%, 80% of the time,” Wheeler said. 

That trey would be Toppin’s lone miss of the night, as he went 5-6 from the floor. 

Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse also credited Toppin for the spark he provided the Cats.

“He did a really good job for them. I think just his energy. I thought we tried to box him out. Just his length and, again, a couple of those marginal plays that maybe could have been a jump ball, maybe could have been over the back, but he got them and brought a lot of energy, got some extra possessions for them,” he said.

Washington may have proved that he can be the game finisher that the Cats so desperately need, but Toppin has that instinct in him as well, and his teammates recognize that. 

“That’s big time right there, for him to have the balls to make those kinda shots,” Wheeler said. 

The lore of masked Toppin will continue to grow on Saturday, March 12, inside Amalie Arena, as the Wildcats will take on the Tennessee Volunteers in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament

Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. EST, with a trip to the championship up for grabs between two bitter rivals.