Fabyon Harris deftly dropped a leaner in the lane that put Texas A&M ahead for good and delivered the back-breaking three-pointer from the corner that sealed the Aggies' stunning upset over Kentucky but even he was just along for ride.
Elston Turner became just the third player to score 40 points against Kentucky in Rupp Arena (Darrell Bird/TCP)
Elston Turner scored 40 points in what may have been the most impressive individual performance of the season in college basketball as Texas A&M left Lexington with an 83-71 victory and Harris had a front row seat.
“I’m going to be real,” Harris said. “I just stepped back and watched the show for a minute like everybody else did.”
Who could blame him? Harris scored 11 points in the final 4:06 of the victory to help send Kentucky to just its second home loss under coach John Calipari but he was footnote in one of the three highest scoring efforts for a UK opponent in Rupp Arena.
“I was shooting around today at shoot-around, and I could just feel I kind of liked the rims,” Turner said. “I got a good feel for the ball. I thank God for this. This is something I’ve been wanting for my whole life, to play Kentucky, get an opportunity against one of the premier teams in the country.”
Turner's effort put him in the same breath as one of the top 50 basketball players of all-time – David Robinson – and one of the most prolific scorer's in SEC history – Chris Jackson. They are the only players in the 37-year history of Rupp Arena to score at least 40 points against Kentucky. Robinson's 45 points for Navy on Jan. 25, 1987 stands as the record, while Jackson poured in 40 on Feb. 15, 1990. Ironically, Kentucky won both of those games.
“In the NBA, obviously there's a couple of guys that would do that to you but in college that was, like, phenomenal,” Calipari said. “That performance was, that's as good as it gets, the way he shot the ball.”
Turner's torrid game wasn't a complete blindsiding given he is the Aggies' leading scorer but his career-high entering the game was 26 points against both Troy and Houston earlier this season. He also set a career-high with six three-pointers in what was a wildly efficient offensive display that saw him make 14-of-19 field goals, including 6-of-10 three-pointers.
The 6-foot-5 senior guard's virtuoso performance started early when Kentucky began the game with freshman Alex Poythress trying to defend him. By the time the Aggies claimed a 29-20 lead late in the first half Turner had already scored 20 points and gained all the confidence he needed to gut the Cats.
“Mistake,” Calipari said of starting Poythress on Turner. “It was a mistake. I was talked into it. I didn't want to do it and it was my decision. It was a mistake because from that point on he was getting 50. Stupid on my part to do that. (Poythress is) not ready to guard a kid like that, he's just not. He doesn't have the intensity. You've got to have an unbelievable fight in you to guard a guy like that.”
It wasn't as if UK didn't make adjustments. Calipari put Archie Goodwin on Turner. Then Willie Cauley-Stein. And then a zone defense. None of it mattered. Despite a quiet first 10 minutes of the second half Turner hit two different jumpers that gave the Aggies the lead in the final 10 minutes, a cold-blooded three-pointer when the Cats took a 62-58 lead and then a crossover, step back triple from NBA range to push the lead to 68-63 with 3:03 remaining.
“I mean, who wouldn't be frustrated when you're trying to play good defense and he hits that type of shot,” UK guard Ryan Harrow said.
In the end, Kentucky was as much a spectator as Harris and the rest of the Texas A&M team for a show that won't soon be forgotten in one of college basketball's most hallowed venues.
“One of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy marveled. “At Rupp Arena.”
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