Mitchell leads Cats in OT win

Published 11:54 am Tuesday, November 21, 2023

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Kentucky survived an unexpected close call against Saint Joseph’s Monday night and it was veteran Tre Mitchell who helped the Wildcats escape the upset bid.

Mitchell scored nine of his season-high 22 points to trigger a 96-88 triumph in overtime. The West Virginia transfer set the tone in the extra period by connecting on back-to-back 3-pointers that provided a much-needed cushion.

“I was open,” Mitchell said. “I was open and I was letting it go. Coach (John) Calipari would probably yell at me if I didn’t. … If they leave me open, I’m going to keep shooting it.”

Calipari said Mitchell simply seized the opportunity when it presented itself in overtime.

“Tre (Mitchell) made those shots which are, what I call, those are ‘the moment,’” he said. “There was that play, ‘the moment.’ And, one team is playing with house money and we’re playing with — we’ve got to win.”

The finish was a sharp contrast to the team’s 89-84 loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic last week in Chicago. In the last close encounter against the Jayhawks, Kentucky missed its final eight shots and were outscored 11-1 in the final three minutes. The loss proved to be a learning experience for the Wildcats less than a week later.

“We just had to kept fighting,” freshman guard D.J. Wagner said. “We were prepared for moments like that.”

Mitchell was especially ready to answer the call for Kentucky, which never led by more than eight and struggled to put away the gritty Hawks, who held a 42-37 edge on the glass. Kentucky’s best scoring run was an 8-0 scoring spree in the first half.

“Nobody wants to go into overtime and you want to win in regulation, but I think this may have instilled a little more confidence in our guys because we answered the call for five minutes,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, who has been a steady presence in the post for Kentucky as the Wildcats await the return of big men Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso from injuries. A third post player — Zvonimir Ivisic — is awaiting final clearance from the NCAA.

While the wait has been frustrating, Calipari hasn’t been surprised by the play of Mitchell through the first four games.

“He is a skilled basketball player, shooting 3’s, passing balls,” he said. “He will fight.”

Although outmanned at times under the basket this season, the Wildcats have managed to survive by simply making shots, especially from long range. Kentucky made 12 3-pointers against the Hawks, the team’s third straight game with double-figure treys.

Mitchell made a team-high four of those treys playing in front of family members.

“They were a little upset with my slow start,” he said with a smile. “They were like, ‘at the end of the day, you answered the call.’ They’re going to support me regardless how I perform.”

That support from his family and teammates went a long way on Monday night.

Wagner scored 22 in his best game as a Wildcat and Antonio Reeves scored 20 on his 23rd birthday. Justin Edwards scored 12 and Rob Dillingham added 11. Reed Sheppard missed his only shot (a 3-pointer) but had four rebounds and five steals, including two big ones in overtime.

Saint Joseph’s (3-2) also put on a display from long range, making 15 3-points, including six by Erik Reynolds III, who led the Hawks with a 28 points. Reynolds made six shots from beyond the arc.

Xzayvier Brown and Cameron Brown each scored 17 points for the Hawks.

“I thought our guys played well enough to win,” St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange said. “We didn’t, and that’s what we came here to do. We believe we should win every game we play and we represent a great university that has an amazing fighting spirit. We needed to do that in front of Big Blue Nation, and I thought we did.”