By Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
A long buildup finally came to its conclusion. Before the Eagles even took the court against the University of Kentucky, the outcome was obvious. While the 156-63 scoreline is brutal to see on paper, the game served a much bigger purpose.
“It was fun,” said Asbury head coach Will Shouse after the game. “The experience we had…There are some things you can’t simulate in practice.”
That experience was playing against the team ranked 2nd in the NCAA in the first of 2016-17 Associated Press poll. Kentucky head coach John Calipari is leading a team of explosive players, including NBA-prospects like De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and Edrice Adebayo, Shouse demanded that his players keep up a high tempo.
It was a speed that Calipari believed challenged his team in a different way than they were used to. “You’re not going to be able to run offense because they will just run and trap you,” he said after the game. “That doesn’t happen that often. We have had one team do that to us in my time here and that was Indiana in the (2012) NCAA Tournament.”
“It was fun. There are some things you can’t simulate in practice.”
“My goal was to shoot 50 3s and we shot 49,” Shouse said. “In the system we run, we try and shoot 90 shots and we shot 97…that’s the way we want to play.”
That type of play doesn’t come without consequences. The Eagles trailed by 102 points with 9:04 left in the second half. “It’s my fault,” Shouse said. “Could I play for us to lose by 50 or 60? Yeah, I probably could have manipulated that…they may have had their way with us anyway…I think that has to be the mindset to win the conference in our league.”
Not a lot went the Eagles’ way during the game, as they were outperformed in nearly every category. But one area where they can take some pride in was their work on the offensive glass, where they actually did outwork UK, finishing with 22 offensive rebounds to the Wildcats’ 15. That tenacity resulted in 15 second-chance points over the course of the game.
“They scramble the game up,” said Calipari. “They make you play basketball, and they believe they’re in better shape than the teams they’re playing. So [Shouse] didn’t want to change for this game, and I don’t blame him. On the other side, that’s why we scored so many points.”
With a player as fast as De’Aaron Fox on the Kentucky team, it would be hard for anyone to keep up with him. The freshman guard went 11-14 from the field, with most of those points coming off of layups and dunks as he slashed his way to the basket.
A lot of the Eagles game plan came from Shouse’s desire to make his opponents “think a little bit,” and while the Wildcats’ players did neutralize Asbury very efficiently, it wasn’t for lack of effort. “I just wanted them to play as hard as possible, and I think they did that,” said Shouse. “They were still diving for loose balls and they were still going to rim.”
“We just didn’t stop fighting,” said Kentucky player Tai Wynyard about the competition on the court. “Coach [Calipari] was just telling us to keep going. Respect the team and respect them by playing hard.”
Calipari agreed, “This game was hard for those guys. They were playing guards. They had to move your feet and play a guy that’s not quite as big as you are.”
Despite the lopsided score, Shouse wasn’t disappointed in how his team played. “The big thing was I didn’t want them looking at the scoreboard,” he said, “I just wanted them to play as hard as possible and I think they did that.”