Five things you need to know from No. 16 Kentucky’s 96-88 overtime win over Saint Joseph’s in men’s NCAA college basketball at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center:
1. Tre Mitchell saves UK’s bacon. With UK teetering on the verge of a home loss to a non-power conference foe, the transfer from West Virginia stepped up big.
With the game tied at 77 in overtime, Mitchell drained a three from the top after a nifty feed from Rob Dillingham with 3:57 left to put UK up 80-77.
After Lynn Greer scored on a driving layup at 3:31, Mitchell calmly arced in another trey, this one with 3:13 left in the extra period to put UK ahead 83-79.
The 6-foot-9, 231-pound super-senior’s work was not done. With UK clinging to an 87-84 lead with 57.6 seconds left in the OT, Mitchell did what several of his younger teammates had failed to do in the OT: He went to the foul line and cashed two free throws.
For the game, Mitchell finished with 22 points, six rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots, a steal — and two cold-blooded three-pointers when UK desperately needed them.
Given the injures that have hollowed out the Kentucky front line early this season, where would the Wildcats be if Mitchell had not fallen in their lap due to Bob Huggins’ off-the-court issues at West Virginia?
2. Edwards and Wagner. The two most-hyped players among Kentucky’s No. 1-rated 2023 recruiting class, D.J. Wagner and Justin Edwards have gotten off to slower starts in their college careers than have classmates Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham.
Against Saint Joseph’s, there were positive signs from both players.
Wagner, the No. 6-rated prospect in the 2023 Rivals 150, entered play Monday averaging 9.3 points but making only 31.9% of his shots, 23.5% on treys.
Versus the Hawks, Wagner had his best game as a collegian.
The 6-4, 192-pound product of Camden, New Jersey, finally got to see some shots go in the basket. Wagner hit 7 of 17 shots and tied Tre Mitchell with a team-high 22 points. Wagner also doled out six assists, grabbed three rebounds and hit 7 of 8 foul shots.
Coming into Monday night’s game, Edwards, the No. 3-rated high school prospect in the class of 2023 in the Rivals 150, was averaging 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds but shooting only 42.9% from the field, 14.3% on three-point tries.
Playing against a foe from his hometown, Philadelphia, Edwards had 12 points, three rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal.
3. Reed Sheppard’s encore. One game after rifling in 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting in UK’s 101-67 win over Stonehill, the former North Laurel High School star took only one shot against Saint Joseph’s and did not score.
Yet Sheppard nevertheless had a meaningful impact on Kentucky’s victory.
The 6-3, 187-pound freshman had four rebounds, four assists and five steals. Sheppard’s final steal, with 23 seconds left in overtime and UK up 92-86, sealed Kentucky’s win.
In a game in which he did not score, Sheppard was a team-best plus-16 in the plus/minus category.
4. Saint Joseph’s just misses an amazing turnaround. The visiting Hawks came agonizingly close to what would have been one of the greatest one-game bounce-backs in college hoops history.
In its previous contest, Saint Joseph’s lost 57-54 to Texas A&M-Commerce — a team in its second year transitioning from NCAA Division II to Division I.
On Monday night, the Hawks were in overtime with the winningest men’s basketball program in NCAA Division I history — at Rupp Arena.
5. Sailing the “Atlantic.” With its victory, Kentucky is now 15-3 all-time vs. teams presently in the Atlantic 10 Conference.