As most sports fans know, there are two universities called “Miami.”  The one in Ohio doesn’t like to be called “Miami of Ohio” anymore, even though there is the matter of that school down in Coral Gables that goes by the same name.

There are a bunch of Wesleyans; Iowa, Indiana – heck, we even have one in Kentucky. The mother ship is in Middletown, Connecticut but up there they call themselves simply, “Wesleyan.”   The rest, apparently, are posers.

And then there’s Mount St. Mary’s.  Two institutions share the same name but they’re hardly alike. One is in Los Angeles, a tiny school, primarily for women but it does play men’s basketball. And of course, there’s the one from Emmitsburg, Maryland.

That’s the one that showed up in Rupp Arena Tuesday night, getting a fat paycheck and a 80-55  pounding from the Wildcats.

Best known for its venerable coach of 49 years, the late, great Jim Phelan, Mount St. Mary’s moved from NCAA Division II to D-I in 1988 and elbowed its way into the Big Dance twice under Phelan, including a trip in 1995 that ended all too briefly.  The Mountaineers ran into Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats, falling 113-67. 

They were much more competitive during their most recent tussle with Kentucky, hanging around in the first half before melting down in the second. The Wildcats led only 38-27 at recess and then REALLY got busy, outscoring MSM 30-9 over the next 13 minutes.

At 13:09, the Mount’s coach Dan Engelstad called timeout after Sahvir Wheeler enjoyed an almost unchallenged trip to the bucket for a stylish, one-handed layup. At that point, the Wildcats had hit two of every three shots from two-point range. 

Oscar Tshiebwe listened to his coach, looked for his shot and found it against Mount St. Mary’s

Oscar Tshiebwe, he of the 20-rebounds-per game average coming in, made a point of heeding John Calipari’s advice and began looking more for his shot. He found it.

Tshiebwe hit 10 of his first 12, including dunks, jumpers, jump shots and putbacks, finishing with 24 points. Oh, and “only” 16 rebounds, too.

Calipari afterward claimed Tshiebwe had drained 87 shots in a five-minute practice drill, the best performance of its kind since Kyle Wiltjer wore a Kentucky uniform.  “I’ve been on him,” Calipari said.  “He can shoot the ball.”

Anybody in Rupp Arena who might have been wondering about Tshiebwe’s progress on the glass needed only to glance at the wall behind the Kentucky bench. UK fans hung an “R’ each time he grabbed an errant shot, just as Calipari had suggested last week.

Tshiebwe was on the receiving end of some of Wheeler’s best dimes; the junior point guard connected on enough scoring passes to make Will Levis envious; Wheeler finishing with eight assists.

“We’re playing for each other. That’s the biggest thing coach talks about,” Wheeler told UK Radio’s Mike Pratt. “We all come from different backgrounds, where we were The Guy. But here at Kentucky, it’s all about sharing. It’s all about one common goal – winning.”

Kentucky’s run to open the second half against an admittedly overmatched and overpowered MSM team was another confidence-builder and another glimpse at the raw talent Calipari has assembled. 

So efficient was the UK offense that through the first 30 minutes of the game, the Mountaineers had committed only four fouls and it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Wildcats were simply too quick to the basket and too dominant on the boards.

Everything went right for Kentucky. For the second straight game, a UK student swished a shot from mid-court, winning $10,000 from Central Bank. And with about seven minutes left, Mezie Offurum missed both ends of a two-shot foul, scoring a free chicken biscuit for everybody in the place. 

A solid win, scholarship cash for a lucky student and a free breakfast biscuit – all good but not the best thing that happened Tuesday night.

Zan Payne’s four late points helped a bettor win big

Reserve Zan Payne, finally able to play after coming back from two different leg injuries, drained a couple of free throws and then made a steal, taking it all the way for a running one-hander.  

What was left of the crowd erupted in cheers and applause – some of it, no doubt, to reward the efforts of a walk-on who’s struggled to find his way back to the court.

And some if it quite probably because they had seen the Twitter post reporting that a bettor had put up $225,000, taking the Wildcats and laying 24.5 points.  Paynes four late points covered the spread and the lucky gamer cleared a cool $200,000.

Solid win, indeed.

 

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