Dan McHale’s return to Rupp Arena didn’t go as well as planned.
The first-year Eastern Kentucky coach, a former student manager at Kentucky, watched as his Colonels couldn’t contain the fifth-ranked Wildcats in the post and failed to live up to their billing as one of the top three-point shooting teams in the nation, resulting in an 88-67 loss Wednesday night.
The Wildcats (8-1) scored 58 points in the paint and scored 29 second-chance baskets to keep Eastern (7-3) at bay throughout the contest. The Colonels made just five shots from 3-point range and were outrebounded 50-25.
“I challenged my guys.,” McHale said. “We had to be first to the floor. We had to get the 50-50 balls. We had to gain rebounds. I think we did two of the three. We couldn’t keep them off the glass. That’s their strength. That’s our weakness.”
Eastern’s Javonte Hawkins, who led the Colonels with 19 points, said Kentucky’s size was a difference on both ends of the court.
“I think what went right for them was they kept it in the paint, and kept on using their lobs or offensive rebounds,” he said. “For us, I think it was that we lost a little of our composure, but we will bounce back.”
McHale also said Kentucky’s length also played a role in his team’s inability to get into a rhythm from long range.
“Their length really bothered us,” the EKU coach said. “We didn’t get any clean looks. It’s just one of those things where you go and you shoot the ball great at walk through. Today we didn’t miss a single shot at walkthrough. Then our guys go out there and see 20,000 people in the stands and that definitely has something to do with it. We’re a lot better offensively than we showed tonight and a lot of that was because they took us out of our stuff.”
Eastern guard Jarrelle Reischel agreed.
“We did not shoot threes well at all today, but we drove the ball well, made the extra pass, got to the free throw line, but it was just not a good night from the 3-point range,” he said.
McHale said the Colonels will learn from the loss going into Saturday’s game at Marshall.
“I think the biggest thing is we started to go one on five with about four or five minutes to go in the game. And we didn’t need to,” he said. “These guys need to learn to trust their teammates. And that’s what they have to learn from this. Their effort was outstanding. I think they played great and to keep coming back the way they did it did show me a lot about this team.
“But we’ve got to be able to watch the film and understand if we can trust our teammates instead of driving into the trees and getting swatted at all the time, then we will become a better team. We’re a very close team on and off the court. They’ll learn from it.”