LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - So much for the idea of top-ranked Kentucky following up its big win over No. 6 Texas with a letdown against Eastern Kentucky. Not a chance.
Karl-Anthony Towns made sure of that by scoring a career-high 19 points - capped by his first 3-pointer - as the Wildcats rolled to an 82-49 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday night.
“I did come out with a different mentality today,” said Towns, who had nine rebounds and four blocks in 23 minutes. “I’ve been just trying to work on all facets of my game, especially defensively.”
Two days after a hard-fought victory over the Longhorns, the Wildcats (9-0) had it significantly easier against the neighboring Colonels, whose campus is located about 20 miles south of Lexington. Despite making its first 3-point attempt with 2:57 remaining, Kentucky still shot 33 of 58 from the field (57 percent) and dominated almost every statistical category.
Willie Cauley-Stein added 11 points and Trey Lyles had 10 points with 10 rebounds for his first double as Kentucky improved to 11-0 against EKU (4-3). Reserve forward Marcus Lee also had 10 points for the Wildcats.
Denzel Richardson’s 19 points was one of the few bright spots for the Colonels, who shot just 18 of 69 (a season-worst 26 percent) from the field in losing their third straight. They made just 6 of 30 3-pointers after entering the game averaging nearly 11 per game from behind the arc.
That defensive effort symbolized Kentucky’s intensity in a game the Wildcats could have just mailed in after beating a top-10 team. Then again, staying focused was their objective.
“They recognize the hard work that they’re putting in defensively, and we challenge them to do that,” said Wildcats assistant coach John Robic, standing in for head coach John Calipari. Robic said that Calipari had lost his voice.
Kentucky’s 10 initial misses from long range created a buzz among 23,268 at Rupp Arena, who began yelling “3!” on late-game possessions in an effort to extend the team’s 908-game streak with at least one. After Aaron Harrison finally delivered to big cheers, Towns and Derek Willis followed as Kentucky finished 3 of 13 from behind the arc.
“I really didn’t know about that (streak), but I’m glad we hit one,” Towns said.
Eastern Kentucky, the Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion and preseason third-place pick in the East, played without senior forward Eric Stutz, who sat on the bench with a walking boot on his right leg.
Chances are the Colonels wouldn’t have been closer with Stutz in the lineup, though they did manage eight steals, force 17 Kentucky turnovers and prompted Calipari to call timeout after a short run brought them to 15-10. Kentucky outscored EKU 26-4 the rest of the half and led by as many as 34 with 55 seconds remaining.
“Being held to 49 points is a feeling that’s not good,” Colonels coach Jeff Neubauer said. “That’s not something that we’re accustomed to, or ranked teams in the country are accustomed to.
“However, that is what Kentucky has done to every opponent that they played so far.”
LOTS OF LOBS
Offsetting Kentucky’s perimeter struggles were a steady stream of lob feeds for easy dunks over the undersized Colonels. “Coach said the lobs would be there because they’re trying to take charges,” Lyles said, “and what he said worked.” Even reserve Willis got in on the party, lofting one up to Lee for Kentucky’s last basket.
Richardson raised eyebrows by saying afterward that Kentucky’s defense “really wasn’t that good.” Asked to respond, Neubauer just laughed and said, “we need to do more media training with our young men. … I was impressed.”
Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ 27-point halftime deficit alone was larger than their winning margin (26.2) in four victories.
Kentucky: Towns’ topped his previous career high of 13 against with Texas-Arlington at the 14:45 mark in the second half and is now 1 for 2 from long range.
Eastern Kentucky: Visits IUPUI on Saturday.
Kentucky: Hosts Columbia on Wednesday.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.