Freshmen lead UK over NKU 79-70
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Kentucky's freshmen showed the new kids on their block how it's done at tournament time.
Bam Adebayo had 15 points and 18 rebounds on Friday night as Kentucky overcame plenty of freshmen mistakes and beat stubborn Northern Kentucky 79-70 in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament .
The second-seeded Wildcats (30-5) won their 12th straight and got their first-game jitters out of the way. They also wound up with a surprisingly close finish after pulling ahead by 18 points in the second half, showing their inexperience on the March stage.
"Well, that's freshmen, so I will tell you this is all a learning curve," coach John Calipari said. "We know we've got to play better, no question. I expect that we will."
The Norse (24-11) closed within 75-68 on Drew McDonald's 3-pointer with 35 seconds left. Malik Monk made four free throws to close it out. Monk, the SEC's player of the year, missed all of his six shots from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points, eight below his average. Freshman De'Aaron Fox scored 19 points.
Northern Kentucky reached the tournament in its first year of eligibility, only the seventh team to do so since 1970. For the Norse, the tournament was more of a starting point than the end of a season.
Norse players shook some of their fans' hands before leaving the court.
"I looked up and I saw my dad specifically, and he gave me a thumbs-up," McDonald said. "And that's what put a tear in my eye really, just to realize the impact we've put on our community and the university as a whole. It just struck me."
The contingent of Northern Kentucky fans dressed in black and gold enjoyed the start. Cole Murray had a chance to give the Norse a lead late in the first half, but missed on a 3-point try. The Wildcats outscored the Norse 15-3 the rest of the half , and they were in control until the closing flurry.
Northern Kentucky went only 8 of 32 from beyond the arc, well below its norm.
"We were the best shooting team in the Horizon League the entire season," coach John Brannen said. "Tonight was not our night from the 3-point line. I'd liked to have seen what happened if we had made a few more."
Northern Kentucky: Guard Lavone Holland II, who was the Horizon League Tournament's MVP, had 22 points on 10-of-21 shooting.
Kentucky: The Wildcats' freshman trio of Fox, Monk and Adebayo came in averaging 49.9 points, 14.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. They combined for 36 points, 22 rebounds and six assists.
SHARING A SONG
Northern Kentucky's pep band played "My Old Kentucky Home" when the game ended.
PAST HIS BEDTIME
Calipari wasn't happy that the game ended at 12:17 a.m.
"It's 12:30," he said to open his postgame media session. "A college kid shouldn't be playing at 12:30. The old man that's coaching their team has to watch tapes tonight. Can you just ask a couple questions? We shouldn't be playing this late, but that's another issue for another day."
With Kentucky and Duke winning on Friday night, all of the No. 2 seeds advanced. Arizona won easily on Thursday night against North Dakota. While a top seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed, some No. 2 seeds have gone down hard in recent years. In the previous five years, four No. 2 seeds got knocked off in their opening games. The most recent upset came last year when Middle Tennessee beat Michigan State 90-81.
Kentucky plays Wichita State on Sunday at 2:40 p.m. and it can be seen on Local12. The Shockers beat Dayton 64-58 in the earlier game. Wichita State was 35-0 when it lost to Kentucky 78-76 in the second round of the 2014 tournament.