Eastern Kentucky Colonels

Alex Poythress
Associated Press

No. 5 Kentucky rebounds with 88-67 win over Eastern Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky senior Alex Poythress showed what’s possible when his mind, body and will are working together. Coach John Calipari hopes to see that imposing combination more often as the forward keeps making his way back from a devastating knee injury.

Poythress had 21 points and 13 rebounds, Jamal Murray scored 16 and No. 5 Kentucky pulled away from Eastern Kentucky 88-67 Wednesday night to bounce back from last week’s first loss at UCLA.

The Wildcats (8-1) succeeded with improved and dominant inside play against the smaller Colonels. Kentucky scored its first 32 points in the paint and 58 overall, outrebounded EKU 50-25 and made timely baskets before pulling away late.

Poythress’ third double-double this season led the way and featured a baseline drive and two-handed dunk for an 80-65 lead with 4:14 remaining. He finished one point shy of his career best and matched another on the boards.

“I’m just trying to play hard every time I’m out there,” said Poythress, who sustained a season-ending left anterior cruciate ligament last December. “I’m just trying to give 100 percent out there and bring energy.”

Poythress’ effort pleased Calipari, who has waited a long time to see it.

“I want the kid to be the best player in the country. He’s capable of that,” the coach said. “He was a couple of shots from a near-perfect game.”

Marcus Lee added 11 points and eight rebounds, while Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe each added 10 for the Wildcats.

Javontae Hawkins scored 19 points for EKU (7-3), which entered as one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams (44 percent) but made 5 of 18 from behind the arc (28 percent).

For first-year Colonels coach Dan McHale, a former student manager under Kentucky coach Tubby Smith from 1998-2001, the game was a bittersweet homecoming.

His team entered with many offensive strengths including perimeter shooting, but those 3-point shots didn’t fall in a 1-for-8 first half that only improved slightly after the break. The Colonels shot 40 percent from the field overall.

EKU pushed the tempo at times and even got within 71-63 late before Kentucky outscored the Colonels 17-4 down the stretch to seal it.

“To be down eight at the under-eight (minute) timeout, I would have taken it,” McHale said. “We just couldn’t get consecutive stops back together and couldn’t keep them off the offensive glass.”

Kentucky was much better in hitting 35 of 64 overall (55 percent), a huge improvement from its 38-percent effort at UCLA. Then again, those impressive numbers were expected given the Wildcats’ height advantage that the 6-foot-11 Labissiere, 6-9 Lee and 6-8 Poythress provided and frequently exploited underneath.

Especially Poythress, whom McHale said “is a pro when he wants to be. When that motor clicks and when he starts playing at the speed he did tonight, he’s very tough to guard.”

TIP-INS

Eastern Kentucky: Jarelle Reischel, who entered the game ranked third nationally with 65 made free throws on 80 attempts (which ranked fourth), made all five attempts in the first half and finished with 12 points. … Hawkins fell to the floor with a left calf cramp but limped off the floor with eight minutes left.

Kentucky: The Wildcats made 18 assists but committed 17 turnovers. … Briscoe and EKU’s Reischel each received offsetting unsportsmanlike technical fouls in the first half. … Charles Matthews had seven points.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky visits Marshall on Saturday.

Kentucky hosts Arizona State on Saturday.

THIS SEAT IS TAKEN

McHale’s return to Rupp Arena included an homage to late longtime Kentucky equipment manager Bill Keightley, whom he worked under as a student manager. The EKU coach kept the first chair next on the scorer’s table empty to honor his onetime mentor, who worked for the Wildcats for 48 years.

Ohio Valley Conference Preview: Belmont reigns supreme

Craig Bradshaw (AP Photo)
AP
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship game didn’t lack any drama. Taylor Barnette drilled a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left to send the Belmont to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years. It handed Murray State, which was undefeated in conference play, an invitation to the NIT.

The Bruins and Racers are expected to top their respective divisions again this season despite going through two very different offseasons.

Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, entering his 30th season, brings back four starters. Barnette, the OVC Tournament MVP and Craig Bradshaw, the Ohio Valley Preseason Player of the Year, make up the conference’s top back court, while Evan Bradds mans the frontline after a breakout sophomore season. Belmont is one of the nation’s best mid-major programs year-after-year, and that shouldn’t change this season.

Murray State, however, experienced an offseason of change. In April, Cameron Payne left for the NBA, becoming a lottery pick that will continue his career alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Then in June, head coach Steve Prohm left to take over the Iowa State program. Despite the coaching change and the loss of three of its top four scorers, Murray State remains a contender in the OVC. First-year head coach Matt McMahon has an all-OVC caliber guard in Jeffery Moss, the lone returning starter. Justin Seymour also returns, but the perimeter will be enhanced by the additions of Texas transfer Damarcus Croaker, Chattanooga transfer Gee McGhee and JuCo transfer Bryce Jones. 

In total, there are four new head coaches in the league: McMahon, Dan McHale (Eastern Kentucky), Rick Ray (Southeast Missouri State) and Jon Harris (SIU-Edwardsville). 

Even after graduating two all-OVC players, McHale and the Colonels could still be Belmont’s toughest challenge in the East Division, relying on the returning back court of Ja’Mill Powell and Isaac McGlone. Morehead State won five of its last six games, narrowly losing to Murray State in the OVC Tournament semifinals, to close out 2014-15. The Eagles could build of last season’s strong push with Brent Arrington returning to lead the team’s hard-nose defense. But Jacksonville State poses as a deep sleeper, a cast of newcomers headlined by well-traveled forward Cameron Biedscheid.

UT Martin, coming off one of the better turnarounds in the nation a season ago, will likely be Murray State’s toughest competition in the West Division. Twymond Howard and Alex Anderson make up a solid 1-2 punch, while Myles Taylor, another double-digit scorer, returns from a shortened 2014-15 season. Chris Olivier transferring hurts Eastern Illinois up front, but Trae Anderson and Cornell Johnston should be enough to keep the Panthers in play this year.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “I think Belmont is the best team. They won the conference tournament last year. They have bulk of the guys coming back and they definitely have the best coach coming back.”
  • Sleeper: “I would say Morehead State. I think they’re going to have a really good team. They play hard, they play physical, they guard you. You really have to prepare for them. Heck, they were close to making the conference championship game last year.”
  • Star to watch: “I think Craig Bradshaw from Belmont. He can score from anywhere on the floor. He plays with a great motor and within the team concept. He can put points on the board, really quickly too.”

PRESEASON OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Craig Bradshaw, Belmont

One of the best mid-major players in the nation, Bradshaw is coming off a junior campaign of 18.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line. An intense competitor, the 6-foot-3 senior had arguably his best game against one of the nation’s premier defenses, scoring 25 points (10-of-19 shooting) and nine rebounds against Virginia in the NCAA tournament.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE TEAM:

  • Evan Bradds, Belmont: The anchor in the middle for the Bruins, the 6-foot-7 junior averaged 14.2 points and 7.2 boards per game, shooting 69 percent from the field, second in the nation in that category.
  • Chris Horton, Austin Peay: One of the bright lights for the Governors in 2014-15, Horton averaged a double-double: 13.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Tops in the conference with 2.3 blocks per game.
  • Twymond Howard, UT Martin: One of the top newcomers in the league from a season ago, the 6-foot-6 forward recorded five of his six double-doubles during conference play.
  • Jeffery Moss, Murray State: A long, athletic guard who can connect from three should see a bump in his offensive numbers with Cameron Payne in the NBA and two of the Racers’ other double-digit scorers gone from a season ago.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @OVCBall

PREDICTED FINISH

East Division

1. Belmont
2. Morehead State
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. Jacksonville State
5. Tennessee Tech
6. Tennessee State

West Division

1. Murray State
2. UT Martin
3. Eastern Illinois
4. Southeast Missouri State
5. Austin Peay
6. SIU-Edwardsville

Eastern Kentucky’s Dan McHale throws out first pitch at Lexington Legends game (VIDEO)

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After serving as an assistant on Richard Pitino’s staff at Minnesota for the last two seasons, Dan McHale received his first head coaching opportunity this spring when he was hired at Eastern Kentucky. With that comes a change in responsibilities, going from offering suggestions to making decisions as some like to say and also getting to know the new community and vice versa.

Thursday night McHale threw out the first pitch at the Lexington Legends minor league baseball game, and he managed to get the ball over the plate. In an interview with Lexington’s NBC affiliate, McHale stated that he last played baseball as a high school senior in 1997 (he was a second baseman).

And even though Coach McHale didn’t bring the heat, his throw won’t go down in history alongside those made by the likes of 50 Cent and former Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory.

Video credit: Lexington Legends