Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley each scored 15 points, Nick Richards grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds and No. 2 Kentucky rallied in the second half to beat Southern Illinois 71-59 on Friday night.
The Wildcats (1-1) bounced back from Tuesday night’s 118-84 shellacking by No. 4 Duke, but had to work hard in the second half to overcome the veteran Salukis. They trailed 44-37 before Quade Green (14 points) scored five points during a 10-2 run for a 47-46 lead with 12:19 left. SIU didn’t quit, but the Wildcats slowly extended their lead to 61-52 on consecutive three-point plays by Johnson and Green.
Richards’ rebounding provided the biggest lift as Kentucky dominated SIU 48-19 on the glass. He had as many boards as the Salukis’ combined total, surpassing his previous best of 15 last season against Fort Wayne. The Wildcats also shot 47 percent after halftime and limited SIU to 1 of 7 shooting from long range.
Aaron Cook had 18 points and Kavion Pippen 16 for the Salukis (0-1), who opened against their first ranked team since No. 13 Illinois in 2010. They shot 41 percent in their first meeting with the Wildcats.
Kentucky should remain in the Top 10 after a bounce-back win, even if it was a little shaky at times.
Southern Illinois: The Salukis returned five starters from last year’s 20-13 team and played as if they had been together for a while, pushing the offensive tempo and forcing the Wildcats into mistakes most of the night. But they let their seven-point edge slip away because they missed shots and couldn’t keep Kentucky off the glass, especially Richards.
Kentucky: Developing chemistry might take a while for the Wildcats, who seemed out of sync for many stretches and committed 19 turnovers. They were fortunate that Richards was fierce on the glass while Green and EJ Montgomery (10 points) contributed critical scoring as Kentucky dominated bench scoring 32-6.
Southern Illinois hosts Buffalo on Monday in the first of a home-and-home series this season with the Bulls. The Salukis will visit Buffalo on Dec. 15.
Kentucky hosts North Dakota on Wednesday in the first meeting between the schools.
Source: The Associated Press