Backcourt helps No. 2 Kentucky run away from Canisius, 93-69
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Isaiah Briscoe expected all those NBA workouts focused on improving his game to pay off with efforts like this.
Judging from how newcomer De’Aaron Fox shook off a rough start, Briscoe picked up some leadership pointers as well.
Briscoe and Fox each scored a career-high 21 points, Malik Monk added 16 and No. 2 Kentucky pulled away from Canisius early in the second half for a 93-69 victory Sunday night.
Briscoe topped his previous high of 20 last December at UCLA behind 9-of-13 shooting that helped Kentucky (2-0) rally from a seven-point first half deficit to build a 44-35 halftime advantage.
“I was just doing whatever I needed to do to keep my team in the game,” said Briscoe, who attended those camps before returning for his sophomore season. “We came out sluggish, we weren’t hitting shots, so I had to keep us in the game.”
Freshmen and fellow guards Fox and Monk combined to shoot 11 of 24 en route to career scoring bests in their short careers, while 6-foot-10 newcomer Bam Adebayo had 14 points and 11 rebounds a game after a foul-plagued debut Friday night.
Those contributions came only after the Wildcats endured some early struggles. A 9-2 deficit forced Kentucky coach John Calipari to call timeout and calm his team down.
“When you’re playing so many young guys, sometimes you just have to settle them down,” he said.
Briscoe spoke up as well, and the Wildcats responded with steady play that spoke volumes.
“We’ve had to face that adversity since we’ve been here,” Fox said, “but he’s done that in a few games last year. We all just listened to what he was saying.”
Kentucky shot 51 percent from the field.
Kassius Robertson had 16 points, Jermaine Crumpton 13 and Phil Valenti 12 for Canisius (0-1) in the coaching debut of Reggie Witherspoon. The Golden Griffins initially pushed the pace and had Kentucky reacting but had no long-term answer for the Wildcats’ pace and backcourt.
THE BIG PICTURE
Canisius: Solid shooting initially helped the Golden Griffins, who made 46 percent in the first half and played Kentucky nearly even on the boards (39-36). But they committed 18 turnovers leading to 29 Kentucky points and cooled off to 37 percent shooting after the break and finished 42 percent overall.
“I thought it was a fast-paced game, probably a little faster than our depth handled tonight,” Witherspoon said. “We were able to move the ball and get some good looks, but a team like this (Kentucky) recovers quickly and sometimes a good look can still be difficult. We had pockets where we played well, but weren’t able to sustain it.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats also shot a respectable 46 percent in the first half behind Briscoe’s 7-of-8 performance and had some nice ball movement between the guards down the stretch. They were less generous with the ball compared to the opener, finishing with just 10 assists on 31 baskets.
Next week might provide a definitive answer as Kentucky steps up the competition Tuesday night against No. 12 Michigan State at the Champions Classic in New York.
Adebayo had plenty of room to grow from a five-point, one-rebound debut limited to just 15 minutes by four fouls. The freshman committed just two fouls against Canisius and earned initial career bests with points, rebounds and 27 minutes.
“I just wasn’t as focused as much as I should have, and tonight I just started focusing,” he said.
Canisius: Visits Cleveland State on Tuesday night in the second game of the Bluegrass Showcase, an event that also features Duquesne, Cleveland State and UT Martin playing games at campus sites.
Kentucky: Faces Michigan State on Tuesday in New York. The schools last met in the same event two years ago in Chicago, a 78-74 Spartans victory that brought them within 12-11 in the series.
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