By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky overcame its own horrid shooting (9-for-27 from the field) in the first half thanks to a 27 points from Keldon Johnson and a steady spot at the foul line to knock off Tennessee State 77-62 Friday night in Rupp Arena.
Tennessee State had lost three of five games coming into Rupp but played with no fear of the Wildcats and even went on a late 8-0 run when it forced three UK turnovers in a 2 minute, 17-second span to at least keep the score respectable.
Kentucky did defend the 3-point shot better — the losers were just 6-for-16 — but a not so good trade off was that the Raiders got 32 points the paint, the same number as UK.
“This season we are playing fast and want to take open 3’s, especially in transition. Kentucky being so elite in transition and great in rebounding we wanted to pass up good shots for great shots. This is lowest amount of 3’s taken in a game but did allow us to stay competitive rather than just taking quick shots,” said Tennessee State coach Brian Collins.
Johnson, a freshman, had his second 20-point outing. He was 7-for-15 from the field and 13-for-18 from the field in 33 minutes. He also had seven rebounds.
“I was impressed by his poise. He didn’t get in the paint and just run people over,” Collins said. “He was agile and able to finish through contact. He will be a big-time player. Be another guy that gets drafted and will have a big career.”
Reid Travis got to the foul line nine times and had 13 points (4-for-4 from the field) and nine rebounds.
Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 31 free throws per game, went 27 of 41 from the foul line. In the second half UK was 14 of 25 from the field, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range after being 1-for-10 the first half.
Kentucky coach John Calipari didn’t mince words about his team.
“You cannot have confidence defensively if you don’t guard,” Calipari said. “The reality of it is we are a ways away. We are not a very good team right now. We have no confidence defensively which bleeds into our offense. If you get beat three or four times (on defense), you are not pounding your chest and saying you are great on offense.”
What about Johnson?
“He was seeing gaps and seeing opportunities to go to the basket and did a pretty good job,” Calipari said.
There were more than a few troubling signs again for Kentucky:
— Sophomore Nick Richards had two points (he got a dunk with 1:47 to play). He had as many technical fouls — one — as rebounds in 10 minutes. He’s becoming a consistent no-show, not something anyone expected this year.
— Freshman point guard Ashton Hagans had just two points and one assist in 11 minutes.
— P.J. Washington, who had averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds in the last three games, had six points on 1-for-6 shooting in 27 minutes. He did pull off seven rebounds.
— Sophomore Quade Green was 2-for-6 from the field and had five points in 17 minutes. He did have four assists.
“The offense is not an issue. We are fine,” Calipari said. “But we are not going to become that team until we are better offensively. I am just going to keep coaching them.”