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Three Key Takeaways.
- Stony Brook’s ghastly first half offense really set the tone. There are always going to be some games when a team does not the shoot ball particularly well. However, there aren’t many instances where a team shoots the ball as poorly as Stony Brook did in the first half tonight. The Seawolves shot just 18.9 percent (7-37) during the opening 20 minutes. To make matters even worse, they missed all five of their three-point attempts. Stony Brook did grab 12 rebounds during the opening stanza, but that only led to more missed shots. It was an ugly, ugly half of basketball, and the fact that the Seawolves were only down 14 at the half was a minor miracle.
- Kentucky’s defense came to play. The Wildcats have received quite a bit of deserved criticism for their inconsistent defense this season. There were no issues on that end tonight against Stony Brook, as the Wildcats applied a great deal of defensive pressure all evening. While Stony Brook does deserve some of the blame for its putrid shooting performance, it’s not like Kentucky made it easy. The Seawolves struggled mightily to find any clean looks; nearly every shot that went up was under some duress. The Wildcats were also quite active in the turnover department, forcing the Seawolves to give it away 14 times. John Calipari’s group is going to need to crank things up against Indiana’s hyper-efficient offense on Saturday, but its sometimes circumspect defense certainly passed its first test tonight.
- Skal Labissiere was excellent tonight. The Kentucky freshman big man has had some substantial ups-and-downs this season, but you would not know that if you look at how he played in tonight’s first round victory. Labissiere scored 12 points (6-10 shooting), blocked six shots, and grabbed four rebounds in 23 minutes. The big man’s length frustrated Stony Brook all night and his defensive presence was extremely important to the Kentucky winning effort. Labissiere is certainly a player to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses.
Player of the Game. Jamal Murray, Kentucky. When the Wildcats were looking for an offensive spark in the second half to widen its lead, it was Murray that came through with the winning efforts. The freshman guard finished the night with a team-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds. His two second half three-pointers were instrumental in taking the air completely out of Stony Brook’s sails.