LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Looking back, Texas A&M’s Elston Turner said preseason runs through 110-degree heat were the foundation of preparing the Aggies for their first pass at playing in the Southeastern Conference.
The summer heat in eastern Texas couldn’t match Turner’s shooting hand Saturday against Kentucky.
Turner dropped 40 points at Rupp Arena, easily topping his previous career high, and the Aggies won their first league road game as SEC members 83-71.
The loss was John Calipari’s first home conference loss since becoming the Wildcats’ head coach before the 2009-10 season. He’s 24-1 at home in SEC games as Kentucky’s coach.
Turner finished 14 of 19 from the floor, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range. He said he got a good feel for the Rupp Arena rims during shoot-around, and he wasn’t intimidated by the 24,193 fans in attendance who, at one point in the second half, grew so loud that the referee’s whistle to indicate a timeout was almost inaudible at court level.
Turner’s father, also named Elston Turner, played a handful of games at Rupp Arena as a guard for Mississippi from 1977-81.
“He said it was loud, and it’s going to be at least 20,000 people there,” Turner said of speaking to his father. “I haven’t talked to him in the past couple of days, but I’m sure he’s calling me right now.”
Calipari stuck struggling freshman Alex Poythress with defending Turner from the opening tip, and Turner struck right away. He scored nine points in the first six minutes, and Calipari spent the rest of the game throwing different matchups and a variety of defensive schemes at Turner.
“It was a mistake,” Calipari said of putting Poythress on Turner.
Turner dominated the first half, scoring 25 before the break — his previous career high for a single game was 26 — and sending the Aggies into the locker room with a 36-31 lead.
Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin was largely responsible for Turner’s slow start to the second half. Goodwin bodied him up, guarding him aggressively away from the ball to limit catch-and-shoot opportunities that piled up in the first half. When Turner hit his first field goal of the second half with 9:34 to play, it broke a 51-51 tie.
Kentucky took the lead twice over the next five minutes, and both times Turner turned around with a 3-pointer.
“It took a 40-point game to beat Kentucky at Kentucky,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “The run that they have in the SEC, winning all these home games, it’s for a reason. They’re very good, they’re very deep, very talented and very well coached. But for us to score 83 against their defense was incredible, and it took a special performance.”
The Wildcats last tied the game with 4:33 to play on a Goodwin free throw. But the Aggies then scored 11 straight points, blowing open a game that had been within five points for either team since about three minutes into the second half.
Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks, six assists and four steals Saturday.
“I just tried to play hard tonight, as hard as I could for my team, to give us the best chance of winning and came up a little short,” Noel said. “Us as players, we’ve got to take that responsibility and just really get back to it.”
As many different defenses as Calipari threw at Turner on Saturday — he matched up man-to-man with Poythress, Goodwin, 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, faced a 2-3 zone, and even faced 6-11 Noel as a help defender any time Turner got the ball at one point — not much could stop him on his career day Saturday.
“We were up at 6 in the morning this summer, running in 110-degree weather in Texas,” Turner said. “Our coaches always emphasized, ‘This is what’s going to get us to the top.’ We always talked about how it’s going to be tough when we go into Rupp Arena, go to Florida and Tennessee and all the other schools. We just kind of emphasized that’s what we have to do to win, we’re going to have to grind in the summer and offseason.”