It didn’t take Kentucky long to find their groove inside Madison Square Garden.
Freshman guard Malik Monk scored a game-high 23 points to lead the second-ranked Wildcats to a 69-48 win over No. 13 Michigan State at the State Farm Champions Classic Tuesday night in New York City.
Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe added 21 points for Kentucky.
Kentucky, despite their top-five national ranking to start the season, are a young team with three freshmen in their starting lineup.
How these youngsters would handle playing on such a big stage this early in the season was one of the big questions surrounding this game.
After the first five minutes, Kentucky found a rhythm on offense while capitalizing on Michigan State’s carelessness with the basketball.
The Wildcats, sparked by the outside shooting of Monk, went on an 11-3 run to take a 21-12 lead with just under nine minutes to play in the first half. The Spartans battled back to pull within eight at halftime, however they turned the ball over 11 times.
Monk was four of six from behind the three-point line in the first half.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, as always, had a pretty good feeling Monk was going to have a hot hand.
“He had an unbelievable shootaround today,” Calipari said after the game. “I’ve done this for thirty years. We had two other players that had so-so shootarounds and, guess what? They had so-so games.”
“And it was a great lesson because getting him and De’Aaron Fox (12 points, four rebounds) to not be casual… these guys plays casual, they practice casual and that’s what we’ve got to teach them. You can’t be. You’ve got to have another habit. They’ve got to create a habit of really getting after it. Malik Monk had one of the best shootarounds that any of my players have had in the past few years and I expected he would go in and go play well.”
In the second half, Kentucky continued to exercise their will over Michigan State. Tom Izzo’s team appeared to be a step slow all night and struggled to overcome the athleticism of Kentucky.
Despite being out-rebounded by Michigan State, 44-40, Kentucky played solid on defense and succeeded in getting the Spartans to turn the ball over.
This is a tough stretch for Michigan State, this game was the second of eight in what will be a 22-day stretch. The Spartans dropped their season opener to Arizona in Honolulu, Hawaii. They then flew all the way to New York.
“Well. I’m actually a little embarrassed,” a disappointed Izzo said afterwards. “I felt like we competed defensively for the most part, we just didn’t do anything offensively. We looked like a team that was an AAU team; just went one-one-one, didn’t move the ball, got frustrated. I think some of it was that we were a little fatigued and I think John Calipari did a hell of a job. I do think that is one of his better defensive teams. They did a very good job.”
Overall, this was a big step for Calipari’s young squad. To knock off a well-coached team like Michigan State is something they can leave New York City feeling pretty good about and put in their back pocket to refer back to later in the season.