Elston Turner scores 40 as AM beats Kentucky
Elston Turner dribbled at the top of the key, glancing at the Rupp Arena shot clock but mostly staring down the rim.
He was having the game of his life on Saturday, and his Texas A&M Aggies were on the verge of springing an upset at Kentucky.
The clock ticked down. Turner fired. Swish.
It happened more than once - never more dramatically than to put the Aggies in front by five with 3:03 to play. And each time a shot dropped, so did a Wildcat's head.
The hotter he got, the more shoulders Turner saw slumped.
"When you can tell that teams are frustrated, that's when you have to step on them and finish the game off," Turner said after the Aggies stunned the Wildcats 83-71. "When I saw they were frustrated, I just told the team, 'They're frustrated, and we're almost home. We're almost coming out with a win.'"
They came out with it. And Turner walked away with one of the most spectacular performances in Rupp Arena history. He finished with 40 points on 14-of-19 shooting, sinking 6-of-10 three-pointers and all six of his free-throw attempts, adding six rebounds and four assists.
"Phenomenal," Kentucky coach John Calipari called it.
The Wildcats (10-5, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) tried at least three different defenders on Turner. Calipari even employed a rare zone. No tactic clicked. Turner had 25 points in the first half and eight in the final 5:41 of the game.
Time after time, he deflated a raucous Rupp Arena crowd that saw its Wildcats - trailing most of the afternoon - battle back to lead 62-58 with 6:10 to play, only to watch Texas A&M (12-3, 2-0) score 16 of the game's next 17 points.
Turner started the run with one of those dagger three-pointers. He added another before it was finished, and dished to teammate Fabyon Harris for a killer three with 2:06 to play that put the Aggies in front 71-63.
And each time, Turner - whose 40 points were five shy of David Robinson's Rupp Arena record - watched as Kentucky's kiddie Cats slumped their shoulders.
"I mean, who wouldn't be frustrated when you're trying to play good defense and he hits that type of shot?" said Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow, who had 14 points in the game. "That's just normal. We just didn't do everything we were supposed to do to stop him."
It wasn't for lack of trying.
Kentucky started the game with 6-foot-7, 239-pound Alex Poythress guarding Turner - "Mistake," Calipari said - and watched as Turner picked him apart for seven of the Aggies' first 10 points.
"I haven't seen anybody shoot it like that," said Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, whose own brilliant performance - 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocked shots, six assists and four steals - was lost in the shadow of Turner's.
The Cats tried guard Archie Goodwin - who had some second-half success in slowing Turner - and seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein before trying out some zone. Shot-blocking specialist Noel took a brief second-half turn.
It didn't matter.
"I was just going with the flow, didn't really pay attention to who was guarding me or what they were trying to do," said Turner, who entered the game averaging 15.5 points per game. "I was really just trying to get our team going."
Turner - a 6-foot-5 senior who played his first two seasons at Washington and had never scored more than 26 points in a college game - got into the middle of the Kentucky defense for difficult floaters. He came off screens for three-pointers from NBA range.
He couldn't be stopped.
"It's just, he had a great night," Goodwin said. "(As a) defender, it does get frustrating, because you're playing really hard and he's still able to get shots off and make them. It's really something that irritates me a lot."
Calipari was irked, too, less with Turner's big night than with his team's play after it rallied for the late four-point lead, continuing a season-long trend of surrendering sustained offensive runs.
"(At the end) we took all kind of chances on defense and we took some bad plays on offense, and all of a sudden, you're reeling," Calipari said. "And this team to this point has not been able to stop the bleeding, and we've talked about it, but now we're going to have to address it again."
But Calipari could only tip his hat to Turner. As frustrating as the day was for the Wildcats, it was one for the ages.
Asked where this might rank on a list of lifetime memories, Turner said "Definitely this is so far No. 1."
"Behind that might have been my Sweet 16 run when I was at the University of Washington my sophomore year," he said. "This is definitely one of the games that I'll remember for the rest of my life."