Sheppard, Cats rock Hurricanes 95-73

Published 12:31 pm Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The inaugural ACC-SEC Challenge was supposed to be a major test for young Kentucky. The Wildcats passed with flying colors Tuesday night.

Kentucky (6-1) notched its first win against a ranked opponent this season with a 95-73 rout of No. 8 Miami, handing the Hurricanes their first loss.

The Wildcats, who scored 118 points in an easy win over Marshall last Friday, produced an equally impressive performance against the Hurricanes and displayed the same unselfish traits they have shown through the first six games. Kentucky dished out 26 assists on 37 field goals and committed just eight turnovers.

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“When you have players who can pass, dribble and shoot, you can play this way,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

One of those players — Reed Sheppard — produced another memorable performance seven games into his collegiate career with 21 points. He connected on five of the team’s nine shots from long range. He added five rebounds, four assists, three steals, one blocked shot and committed just one turnover.

“It was unbelievable,” Sheppard said. “The crowd was unbelievable. I don’t think they sat down one time. It was so loud from the first possession to the last possession that was they made a huge impact on the game. I think they made it tough for Miami to run stuff. … it was unbelievable, really (and) it was definitely a moment that will we’ll never forget as a team.”

After point guard D.J. Wagner left because of an ankle injury toward the end of the first half, Sheppard was entrusted with running the offense. He poured in 13 points in the second half, even with the added responsibility of filling in for Wagner and the rest of the cast pulled together in a time of adversity.

“It’s really easy playing with four dudes that can play basketball,” he said. “Like coach says, everyone can pass, dribble, shoot (and) being able to do that, something good is going to happen. It’s it’s really easy playing with these guys out here, no matter what lineup it is. Every single person on the team can play and can help the team win.”

Sheppard’s play impressed Miami coach Jim Larranga.

“He’s so good at everything,” the Hurricanes coach said. “He can shoot it. He can handle it. He can pass it. He finds the open man great and he defends. You might look at him and think that, okay, he’s not that athletic and you try to score on him. He’s moving his feet, using his hands and doing a great job at the defensive end of the floor as well. He comes up with a lot of deflections and steals.”

Rick Pitino, who coached Sheppard’s father, Jeff, at Kentucky, also took note of Reed Sheppard’s performance on social media during the second half as the Wildcats began pulling away from the Hurricanes.

“I’m watching Reed Sheppard play (and) thinking of his Mom and Dad as if it were yesterday,” Pitino said on the X social media platform. “Such a great experience for both of them. Absolutely wonderful people. Make it happen, Reed!”

Paced by Sheppard, five players finished in double figures. Antonio Reeves followed Sheppard with 18 points, Tre Mitchell scored 14, Rob Dillingham tallied 12 points and nine assists and Justin Edwards scored 11.

The Wildcats turned the top 15 showdown into a complete beatdown and limited the Hurricanes to just 36 points in the final 20 minutes.

“We just couldn’t guard them,” Larranga said. “We didn’t guard them at all.”