The Associated Press
LEXINGTON, Ky. —
Having achieved one goal in becoming Kentucky’s starting point guard again, Ryan Harrow was seeking a game in which to measure his development.
The Wildcats sophomore set the bar pretty high Saturday against Marshall.
Harrow scored a career-high 23 points and Kentucky used a 21-5 second-half run to pull away for an 82-54 victory. He surpassed his previous career high of 20 two years against South Carolina Upstate while playing for North Carolina State.
Even better for Harrow was seeing the Wildcats feed off some of the energy he displayed, as a point guard is expected to do.
“I think it’s important how I play because I kind of get the team going,” said Harrow, who shot 10 of 17 from the field with four assists and three steals in 33 minutes. “If I’m playing hard, then I’m excited and the guys get excited too, because it makes it a lot easier for them.”
For Harrow, the game marked a big step forward in what had been a tough transition to Kentucky (8-3).
The transfer started the season opener against Maryland before missing four games last month because of an illness and tending to a family matter back home in Marietta, Ga. He has slowly made his way back into the rotation and was coming off a season-high 12 points in his second start last week against Lipscomb.
Harrow almost beat that total in the first half alone against Marshall (7-6). He scored 11 points to help the Wildcats lead 33-24 at halftime and turned it up with 12 more in the final 20 minutes.
His total included consecutive layups that helped Kentucky surge to a 62-37 lead that put Marshall away.
“When he’s playing the right way with aggressiveness, talking to his teammates, that look in his eye, he’s as good as anybody in the country right now,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said of Harrow.
“I’m looking around at point guards right now, he’s fine.”
Archie Goodwin added 18 points and Nerlens Noel 11 as the Wildcats won their fourth straight before a season-high 24,271 at Rupp Arena. Kentucky also improved to 12-0 against Marshall.
Kentucky’s final tune-up before next Saturday’s showdown at fifth-ranked Louisville saw the Wildcats shoot just 42 percent (29 of 69) but benefit from even worse shooting by the Thundering Herd, who hit 29.5 percent (18 of 61).
Some of Marshall’s struggles were caused by a Kentucky defense that forced 17 turnovers leading to 26 points. The Wildcats also outrebounded the Herd 48-43, including 17-16 in offensive boards, despite Marshall’s seven players 6-foot-8 or taller. Kentucky’s aggression was what pleased Calipari most.
“The thing I liked about Marshall, very physical, a bump-and-grind team that we outrebounded and they were very big,” Calipari said. “We needed a game like this.”
Elijah Pittman had 17 points and Dennis Tinnon 14 for Marshall.
Though Kentucky had rolled over its last three opponents by an average of nearly 33 points coming in, Calipari has wanted more from his players and has pushed them hard in twice-daily workouts during the semester break. More than anything, he has wanted his players to communicate more on the floor.
Finishing games has been an issue for Kentucky as well but starting was the initial problem against a Marshall team that entered the game owning the nation’s 22nd-best rebounding average (41.3) The Wildcats still managed to get an early edge thanks to one of the smallest players on the floor, the 6-2 Harrow.
“We are really happy to have him back,” said forward Kyle Wiltjer, who had eight points. “He makes the team that much better. He makes really good decisions and we are just happy that he is back and playing well.”
Harrow’s three layups helped stake Kentucky to a 10-7 lead during a competitive first 10 minutes featuring five ties and six lead changes. Marshall stayed close thanks to D.D. Scarver and Pittman, junior college transfers who have recently carried the scoring with top scorer DeAndre Kane out indefinitely with a right-hand injury.
In the early going the duo combined for 16 points to give Marshall a brief 20-18 lead. Harrow quickly tied it with a bank shot and followed with a 3-pointer that put Kentucky back ahead 23-20.
Marshall scored just two baskets over the final 8:17 of the first half but scored the first seven points of the second to close within 33-31. Consecutive layups by Harrow keyed an 8-1 run and stretched the lead to 41-32. Marshall went cold again, with Chris Martin sinking its only basket over nearly 7 minutes, during which the Wildcats pulled away with a 21-5 run.
“We know we have some offensive struggles, which are evident,” Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. “But we need to defend and rebound and be a little tougher over 40 minutes against a team like Kentucky.”
It was the kind of effort Kentucky needed with Louisville looming next week, but for now the Wildcats were just glad to play the kind of game they’ve been seeking for a while.
“It’s just building our confidence,” freshman forward Alex Poythress said. “We’re trying to get our confidence up so we can get prepared for the battle next week.”
The Wildcats played without reserve guard Jon Hood, who sat out with an upper respiratory illness and was not on the bench.