Second-half comeback leads Kentucky basketball to win over Vanderbilt

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON - Davion Mintz had been here before.

During his junior season at Creighton, he had a chance to send a game at Xavier to double overtime when the ball found him in the left corner with a wide-open look at the basket. His 3-point attempt that day in February 2019 fell short, ending the BlueJays' chance at a win.

The ball bounced off the rim and directly back to him in the corner. Even though time had already expired, Mintz shot it again, this time finding the bottom of the net in a meaningless do-over.

"It was just haunting me because I knew I wanted that back," Mintz said. "I went to the gym that night and shot a couple hundred. I just knew when I got that opportunity again – I didn’t know where it would be at – I was going to hit that corner 3."

On Tuesday, Mintz got the chance to make good on that promise. With less than a minute remaining and Kentucky's game against Vanderbilt tied at 74, UK coach John Calipari drew up a play to find Mintz in the same spot that he missed the possible game-tying 3 for Creighton.

A screen from sophomore forward Jacob Toppin got him open, and a pass from freshman point guard Devin Askew found him with an open look.

This time Mintz nailed the 3, sending the Wildcats to a 77-74 victory.

Davion Mintz hit a 3 in the final minute to help Kentucky avoid the first three-game losing streak in Rupp Arena history with a 77-74 victory over Vanderbilt.

"I knew that it would be open," Mintz said. "Devin put it right on the money. It was just bottoms. It felt amazing. ... Just to hit one in the exact same spot years later, that just felt amazing.”

After Mintz's 3, Toppin blocked Vanderbilt's attempt at an answer on the ensuing possession, and freshman forward Isaiah Jackson grabbed the rebound to give Kentucky the ball.

Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse elected to have his team defend the length of the shot clock instead of sending Kentucky to the line on the next possession. That strategy paid off with Mintz missing a jumper with just 13 seconds remaining in the game, but the Commodores were unable to convert two 3-point attempts that could have sent the game to overtime.

After Myles Stute rebounded a Trey Thomas miss with less than five seconds on the clock, Maxwell Evans' 3 at the buzzer bounced multiple times on the rim before falling out, giving Kentucky its first win at Rupp Arena since the season opener on Nov. 25 and avoiding what would have been the first three-game home losing streak for UK in Rupp Arena history.

"It's a good win," Calipari said. "We/ve got tough games coming up. All I'm trying to do every day: How do I get these guys better, how do I get them to understand I believe in them, how do I get them to understand they must execute on both sides of the ball for us to have that chance that we want to do something unique and special?"

Read more:Are the right players on the floor for Kentucky basketball right now?

The Commodores hit 8 of 17 3-point attempts in the first half to take a 40-33 lead into halftime, but Kentucky opened the second half with a 7-0 run to tie the game. From there, neither team led by more than four points for the rest of the game.

Vanderbilt hit just 2 of 10 3s in the second half. Four Commodores (Stute, Jordan Wright, Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu) accounted for 70 of the team's 74 points in the game.

Senior forward Olivier Sarr led Kentucky with 24 points and seven rebounds but fouled out with 1:03 remaining. He hit 14 of 17 free throws.

After leading Kentucky to a win at Mississippi State on Saturday, former Pendleton County star Dontaie Allen contributed 14 points and five rebounds. Mintz and freshman point guard Devin Askew each scored 11 points.

UK freshman guard Terrence Clarke, a former consensus top-10 recruit, missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. Freshman guard Brandon Boston, a top-five recruit in the 2020 class, did not play in the final 6:58 after hitting just 3 of 9 shots.

With the two projected starts on the bench, Kentucky rolled with Mintz, Askew and Allen in the backcourt in crunch time for the second consecutive game. Like it did in the double overtime victory at Mississippi State Saturday, that strategy paid off.

"Especially with what we’ve been through this season, I don’t care if it’s a middle school team, a win is a win," Mintz said. "We’re happy about it. We’re just going to keep progressing, keep going. It’s huge for our confidence.

"Everything we can take, we want. We’re super desperate, and we’re going to go out there and play like it. We’re going to fight to the end. ... It’s trending. We’re going in the right direction. I love it.”

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ