Lexington, Ky. – Commencing the 2018-19 season with an exhibition game against its Division I crosstown neighbors, the Transylvania men's basketball team came away with a 94-66 loss against the greatest of challengers, the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats on Friday night at Rupp Arena.
Taking on a gargantuan opponent in Kentucky, the No. 2 team in all of college basketball, the Pioneers, with less than two weeks of practice under their belt, made the iconic five-block walk lined with frenzied fans from their friendly confines of the Beck Center down Broadway, took a right on Vine, and entered Rupp.
Friday night's meeting marked the first time the Pioneers had squared off with Kentucky in nearly five years, last playing at Rupp on November 1, 2013. The 2013 meeting concluded a string of three consecutive exhibition meetings between Transy and Kentucky over a three-year period.
The rivalry was revitalized on Friday as the teams began the night with a tribute to the late legend and Hall-of-Famer CM Newton, a giant in college athletics who began his coaching career at Transylvania and concluded a legendary legacy of service as Kentucky's Athletic Director during the 1990s.
Revered as a pioneer and a revolutionary in the social, administrative, and winning aspects of college basketball, Transy head coach Brian Lane and Kentucky head coach John Calipari took a moment at halfcourt along with Newton's son Martin and UK Deputy Athletic Director DeWayne Peevy for a pregame tribute.
As the pregame festivities and fanfare drew to a close, the Pioneers turned their focus to the loaded and deep Wildcats, which fielded five freshmen in the ESPN top 100 recruits from the class of 2018, along with a wealth of veteran talent.
Kentucky's size and athleticism were apparent from the opening tip as the Wildcats opened up a 5-0 lead to open the game off a layup from forward PJ Washington and a slam dunk from Kentucky center Nick Richards. But point guard Cooper Theobald, one of two seniors on the 2018-19 Transy squad, knocked down a midrange jumper to put the Pioneers on the board at the 18:17 mark of the first half to gradually catalyze the offense.
As Kentucky continued to dominate the paint on both ends, the Pioneers focused on crisp ball movement and effective kick outs to create open jumpers for teammates. Junior guard Gabe Schmitt, the team leader in three-point shooting last season, hit a triple to cut Kentucky's advantage to 6-5.
The Wildcats' vaunted freshman class took over, embarking upon a 12-0 run to craft a double-digit lead that would remain for the rest of the evening. The lead later ballooned to 22-7 in favor of the Wildcats with 12:13 remaining in the half.
Led by its upperclassmen, Transylvania's confidence never wavered on Friday as senior forward Bo Schuh scored on an artful tip-in on a second-chance shot and Schmitt cashed in again from long range with 9:33 left in the first half to slice the Kentucky lead to 30-16. The Pioneers endured another sizable run from Kentucky that made it a 43-19 game with 4:55 to go in the first half.
Transylvania completed the half with momentum, going on a 7-2 run off a bucket from sophomore forward Lucas Gentry and a highlight-reel layup by sophomore forward Dominique Turner to forge a 49-30 deficit at halftime.
The Pioneers shot 30.3 percent in the first half to 62.1 percent for Kentucky. Transylvania did maintain an advantage in the three-point department by halftime, shooting 4-for-18 from long distance compared to 0-for-6 from deep for the Wildcats, who made a healthy living with their bigger bodies in the paint.
After being outscored by 19 in the first half, the Pioneers played closely with Kentucky over the final 20 minutes as they put up 36 points to Kentucky's 45. Transylvania improved its shooting from the field to 48 percent in the second half while knocking down 5 of 13 triples in the final 20 minutes.
Sophomore guard Michael Jefferson, who came off the bench on Friday after starting in all 26 games for the Pioneers in his freshman season, provided a mammoth boost for the second unit, scoring 12 points in the second half. Jefferson shot 5-for-6 from the floor in 12 minutes of second-half play, confounding numerous Kentucky defenders with a crafty slicing game and an unstoppable reverse.
On a cold shooting night from outside for both teams, the Pioneers knocked down 9 of 31 three-point attempts for 29 percent shooting while the Wildcats hit just one of 13 attempts on the night. The Wildcats leaned upon their inside advantage, scoring 60 points in the paint to 24 for Transylvania.
The Pioneers illustrated their depth on Friday, keyed by Jefferson's team-high 14 points and eight points off the bench from Gentry on 2-for-3 shooting and a perfect 3-for-3 trip at the charity stripe. Kentucky held a slight advantage in bench points Friday, 41 to 36.
Kentucky's most notable advantage was evidenced by its rebounding totals, where it claimed 52 boards to 18 by Transy for the evening.
Theobald was Transylvania's other double-digit scorer on the evening, registering 13 points, on 5-for-7 shooting along with a co-game-high four assists. The senior led all Pioneers in free-throw attempts, hitting 3-of-4 shots. The Pioneers were 11-for-14 from the foul line on the night. Schuh had the third-highest scoring output on Friday for the Pioneers, scoring nine points on 3-for-5 shooting from the floor, including a perfect 2-for-2 from outside. He added three rebounds, one steal, and the Pioneers' lone block of the night.
Despite the 28-point loss for Transylvania, the Pioneers took solace in excelling at certain aspects of the game that were within their control; Transylvania won the turnover battle, committing 12 turnovers on the night compared to 14 for Kentucky. While Kentucky registered 94 points, just 16 came on fast break opportunities while the Pioneers scored seven fast break points of their own.
Six different Wildcats hit double-figure scoring on Friday night, led by EJ Montgomery's 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting in a reserve role. Starting forward Reid Travis, a seasoned graduate transfer from Stanford University, aided the Wildcats with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Of the four exhibitions played between Transylvania and Kentucky, the 66 points were the most scored by the Pioneers in the four meetings. The Wildcats fell one point short of their exhibition series-high 97 points scored in 2011 by the Anthony Davis-led national championship squad.
The environment was a rare and enthralling one for the Pioneers, who played in front of 19,927 people, including hundreds of enthusiastic Pioneer fans in the building. "It's always a thrill to bring my team down North Broadway to play," commented Lane, Transylvania's 18th-year men's basketball head coach. "I can't say enough about Coach Cal and his generosity in making sure this happens. I am very lucky to coach at a university that had CM Newton before me, Lee Rose, and Don Lane. CM was just an unbelievable role model for all of us and it was exciting to be able to play this game in his honor."
Transylvania tips off its regular season on Friday, November 9 back up Broadway at the Clive M. Beck Center against the University of Mount Union. Tip-off between Transylvania and Mount Union is set for 7:00 p.m.
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