It’s one thing for a non-ranked school to play a ranked school. It’s another thing for a non-ranked school to play a ranked school away at their opponent’s house. And on top of both of those, it’s even harder to beat a team that is ranked first in the country in basketball.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Purple Aces checked every single one of those boxes in their win last night.
The factors coming into the Evansville-Kentucky game seemed very similar to those of Colorado State when they headed to Duke last week. They were away at a ranked school’s home game, but the outcome was completely different. The #2 Blue Devils absolutely destroyed the Rams by capitalizing on every turnover, missed shot, and moment defensive laziness to secure a win of a 34-point margin, winning the game 89-55 (Courier Press). That is what you would expect from the hard circumstances of playing a high-ranked team at their house. That is why this is such a David and Goliath story.
Going into the game, the Purple Aces were 25 point underdogs — it was only the third time that they had played a top-ranked team in the history of the program. In the preseason, Evansville was ranked eighth out of ten schools in the Missouri Valley conference alone, which didn’t look good at the beginning.
Walter McCarty, Head coach of the Purple Aces, found a strategic way to secure a win through teamwork and over his alma mater, with whom he won a national championship in 1996.
In the game itself, only two players on Evansville reached double digits in points. Their leading scorers were K.J. Riley (18 points) and Sam Cunliffe (17 points) — which is a little out-of-the-ordinary for games that result in an upset. Usually when an unranked team upsets a ranked team, the underdog will have the game of their lives by shooting incredibly efficiently to help compensate for their lack in the defensive department. In this case though, there was a lot of strong defense played on Evansville’s side. The leading scorers on the Wildcats were Immanuel Quickley with 16 points and Tyrese Maxey with 15.
At halftime the score was 34-30, in favor of the Purple Aces. This was only the third time in the past decade that a top-ranked college basketball team was down at the half by an unranked, non-conference opponent. Ironically, all of three of those were the University of Kentucky.
Just as Evansville has had some amazing wins over the history of the basketball program, there have also been some extremely unfortunate events in their past. On December 13 of 1977, Air Indiana Flight 216 took off with all 26 members of the Evansville basketball team in Evansville Indiana. Unfortunately, rudder and aileron were locked and the pilots didn’t know it. The amount of weight from the concentration of the bags in the back was too much for the plane to balance, resulting in a plane crashed — leaving no survivors. The only member left was David Furr, who was out for the season with an ankle injury and did not travel on that plane. And just two weeks later, he passed away in a car crash — taking the last member of the 1977 team.
That’s why it is so great to see the school doing well in basketball again. This win for Evansville raises a lot of questions. One of them being, “Since Evansville beat the supposed best team in the country, shouldn’t they be ranked? Or was it just a stroke of luck?”
The other question that is raised is, “Does Kentucky have some serious problems in its core or coach? Was this loss just a chain of unlucky events?”
I guess we might not know the answers to those questions. What we do know is Evansville received a $90,000 check for just showing up, which they received gladly. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life was like that?
It will be interesting to see how far Evansville goes this year in college basketball, because if they keep playing to the way they did last night, I don’t see how any team can stop them.
Photo Credit: Photo by Kentucky Wildcats on Flickr:https://www.flickr.com/photos/135289611@N05/20174552148