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The No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Texas A&M Commerce Lions 81-61 at Rupp Arena on Friday night. The Lions jumped out to an early 21-8 lead on the ‘Cats, but Kentucky went on a 51-20 run to re-establish a comfortable lead for the remainder of the game.

Prior to their game in Lexington, Texas A&M Commerce had a busy week, facing Texas A&M (lost 78-46) and Texas Tech (lost 73-46) earlier in the week. The Lions leading scorers through two early games were Jerome Brewer Jr. (12.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG) and Kalen Williams (11.5 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 1.0 APG). The Lions are in their second season in Division I. Texas A&M Commerce went 13-20 in the 2022-23 season, and began its 4-year transition to Division I in July 2022.

Ranked No. 16 in the nation in the pre-season AP Poll. Defeated New Mexico State 86-46 in the season opener on Monday night. The next test for the ‘Cats will be a big one, as they face the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks in Chicago as a part of the annual Champions Classic next Tuesday. Thiero was injured after a hard fall on Monday night and did not return to the game after posting 5 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes. Thiero (head), Ivisic (eligibility), Bradshaw (foot), and Onyenso (foot) were all out for Friday nights game. Dillingham led all scorers in the opener with 17 points, while adding 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Wagner struggled most of the game shotting but turned it on late on his way to 13 points. Sheppard contributed in every aspect of the game with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Mitchell led the front court with 9 points, 5 rebounds and led the team with 5 assists.

With Thiero out, Dillingham got his first start of the season in a Kentucky uniform. The ‘Cats starting lineup featured Rob Dillingham, DJ Wagner, Antonio Reeves, Justin Edwards, and Tre Mitchell.

Game Recap:

First Half

Texas A&M Commerce won the toss and missed their first shot of the game. Mitchell found an open Dillingham for a corner three that rimmed out for the first ‘Cats shot of the game. The Lions got on the board first with an easy cutting layup, followed by a deep three to give them a 5-0 lead. Lewis hit another three-pointer on the next possession, giving him all 8 of the Lions points on their way to an early 8-0 lead. Coach Cal called a quick 30-second timeout following the made three. Mitchell scored the first points of the game for the ‘Cats with 17:20-minutes to play. The Lions hit another three on their next possession, pushing the score to 11-2 Commerce. Wagner drove by his defender for an easy lay-in. Commerce hit their fourth three of the game and led 16-6 at the first media timeout. Sheppard and Burks were the first players off the bench for Kentucky. Commerce hit their fifth three to give them a 19-6 lead. Their run ended with a Wagner move to get to the rim for an easy score. Sheppard created a steal off a strip and pushed the ball ahead to Reeves for a transition bucket. The score was 21-10 Lions with 11:51-minutes to play in the first half. Commerce began the game 5 of 8 from three-point range. Sheppard created another steal and Edwards finished the possession with an offensive rebound and putback. Following two Dillingham free-throws that narrowed the score to 21-14, the Lions converted an and-one to make the score 23-14 after the missed free-throw. Mitchell connected on the first three of the game for the ‘Cats. Edwards made two free-throws after a hard foul to make the score 23-19 Commerce. Edwards found Dillingham on a long accurate pass for a slam in transition to narrow the ‘Cats deficit to 2 at 23-21 with 8:30-minutes to play. The Lions made just 1 of 3 free-throws on a questionable foul call that was serenaded by “boos” from the home Rupp Arena crowd. Dillingham missed a three, but Edwards followed with a putback slam to make the score 24-23 Commerce. Wagner gave Kentucky their first lead of the game at 25-24 with a quick first step to the bucket for a layup. An 11-1 run over the course of the last 2:46-minutes left the ‘Cats with the lead at the under 8-minute media timeout. Reeves nailed his first three of the night to give the ‘Cats a 32-28 lead with 4-minutes to play. After a few minutes of a cold spell from both teams, Reeves hit a step-back three to push the score to 35-28 ‘Cats. Reeves dribbled into his third three of the half to swell the Kentucky lead to 38-30 at the half. Commerce finished the half hitting just 1 of their last 10 FGs. Reeves led the way for the ‘Cats in first half scoring with 13 points while adding 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Edwards followed with 8 points and 5 rebounds. Sheppard contributed in ways not otherwise seen in the box score through hustle plays and getting in passing lanes. He led the team in first half plus/minus total with a +18 (next closest was Edwards with +9). The ‘Cats were surprisingly outrebounded by the Lions at the half by a count of 19-18. Commerce led for the majority of the first half but the ‘Cats slowly crept back into the lead around the 8-minute media timeout. Kentucky shot 44% from the field in the first half and 33% from three-point range. The ‘Cats defense held the Lions to 37% shooting in the first half despite their hot shooting early in the game. Kentucky had just 2 first half turnovers to 5 assists and created 5 steals.

Halftime: Kentucky 38 – Texas A&M Commerce 30

Second Half

Mitchell scored the first points of the second half with an and-one opportunity that pushed the ‘Cats in front 41-30. Commerce quickly went on a 5-0 run to narrow the score to 41-35. Mitchell broke out a nifty post move for an easy score. Dillingham created his own shot with his playmaking abilities, hitting a long 2-point jumper, followed by a second chance three-pointer off an offensive rebound to push the ‘Cats lead to 48-37. The ‘Cats continued their run, outscoring the Lions 9-0 over the last 2-minutes. Edwards slammed in a misses transition layup by Dillingham to grow the lead to 52-37 with 14:42-minutes to play. Reeves hit a three out of the media timeout to extend the lead to 55-40. Sheppard found Edwards slashing in transition for a slam. Edwards bullied his way to the bucket for a score to give the ‘Cats a 59-41 lead. Burks created a transition opportunity for Reeves for an easy lay-in. Kentucky led 61-44 at the under 12-minute media timeout. Commerce hit a deep three to make the score 63-49 ‘Cats. Commerce hit a three to narrow the score to 64-52 before Wagner found a wide-open Mitchell for a slam in the paint. Wagner drove by defenders on his way to an and-one opportunity. After the made free-throw, Kentucky led 69-54 with 6-minutes to play. Edwards responded to another made three for the Lions with a mid-range jumper. Dillingham found Mitchell for an easy layup. Sheppard scored his first points of the game with a three to push the lead to 76-57 Kentucky. Reeves splashed a deep three to grow the Kentucky lead to 20 at 79-59 with 2-minutes to play. Kentucky’s scoring ended with a Dillingham layup. Kentucky went on to win by a score of 81-61.

Final: Kentucky 81 – Texas A&M Commerce 61

The ‘Cats didn’t start the game off strong, but responded throughout the end of the first half into the second half and were never in danger of falling at home on Friday night. Justin Edwards excelled as his confidence continues to climb with every game. Edwards finished the game with the highest plus/minus total with + 24 in 33-minutes. Reed Sheppard didn’t have the stat line he posted in the first game, going just 1 of 5 from the field, but Sheppard continued to be active in passing lanes and in transition. Sheppard posted the second best plus/minus total on the team with + 23. Reeves and Mitchell were featured scoring options with 21 points and 18 points respectively. The guards in Wagner and Dillingham failed to stand out in the game but continued to flash their skill set with creating their own shot and providing easy chances for teammates to score. Kentucky looks to iron out some wrinkles before they take on the No. 1 team in the country next Tuesday.

Game Stats:

Texas A&M Commerce FG %: 41% (37% 3PT)

Kentucky FG %: 48% (35% 3PT – 8 of 23) (90% FT – 9 of 10)

Rebounds: 36 – 33 Kentucky

Assist/Turnover Ratio: 12:3

Turnovers: UK (3), TXAMC (14)

Points off Turnovers: 17 – 7 Kentucky

Fast Break Points: 23 – 1 Kentucky

Paint Points: 42 – 26 Kentucky

Player Stats:

Antonio Reeves – [(21 points (6 rebounds) (2 assists)]

Tre Mitchell – [(18 points) (8 rebounds) (1 assists) (3 steals)]

Justin Edwards – [(16 points) (7 rebounds) (1 assist)]

Rob Dillingham – [(12 points) (5 rebounds) (4 assists) (1 steal)]

DJ Wagner – [(11 points) (3 assists) (1 steals)]

Reed Sheppard – [(3 points) (3 rebounds) (1 assist) (3 steals) (2 blocks)]

Jordan Burks – [(5 rebounds)]

The next chance to catch the ‘Cats on the court is next Tuesday, November 14 when they travel to Chicago to take on the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (2-0) in the annual Champions Classic. Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 9:30 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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