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COVID keeps packed crowd away as Kentucky rolls over Morehead State in odd season opener

By Jerry Tipton, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Basketball

LEXINGTON, Ky. — There was no pep band. Cheerleaders waving pompoms in the upper arena. A scattering of fans in the Rupp Arena seats seemed to capitalize SOCIAL DISTANCING.

"It's almost like a private showing of Kentucky basketball," said Mark Gilvin, who sat in the third row near midcourt opposite the folding chairs that served as pseudo team benches.

"By invitation only," he added.

Of course, the coronavirus dramatically reduced the "crowd" attending Kentucky's season-opening game against Morehead State on Wednesday night. It seemed safe to assume this was the smallest crowd in Rupp Arena history. The lowest average attendance for UK home games in Rupp was 21,014 in 2001-02. UK's media guide listed average home attendance dating back to 1955-56. The lowest average was 9,266 in Memorial Coliseum in the 1956-57 season.

After a recording of country music singer (and eastern Kentucky native) Tyler Booth performing the national anthem played, there was a smattering of applause by the smattering of fans in attendance. The traditional call to post trumpeting was also virtual.

As for basketball, Kentucky never trailed in defeating Morehead State, 81-45. Defense and balanced scoring propelled UK to its largest margin in an opening game since a defeat of Grand Canyon (85-45) to begin the 2014-15 season.

Four UK players scored in double digits, led by Brandon Boston's 15 points. Devin Askew and Terrence Clarke each chipped in 12 points while Davion Mintz added 10. Isaiah Jackson and Cam'Ron Fletcher each scored nine points.

Willingness to pass helped create balanced scoring. The 18 assists were the most UK had since getting credit for 20 against Fairleigh Dickinson last Dec. 7.

 

Kentucky's defense, which was maligned by coach John Calipari recently, limited Morehead State to one basket in the first eight minutes. The second basket came via goaltending by Olivier Sarr. The Eagles didn't see a second shot go through the basket until 9:28 remained, and they shot 9-for-26 in the first half.

Sarr did not score, take a shot nor grab a rebound in the first half. A second foul sent him to the bench with 10:24 remaining before the break.

Even with Sarr quiet, Kentucky built a double-digit lead inside the first eight minutes and twice widened it to as much as 20 points before settling for a 45-26 halftime lead.

Sarr scored his first points by dunking a lob with 15:05 left in the game. He scored two more baskets, each on jump shots from the right side, inside the next two minutes. He finished with eight points.

Kentucky's lead widened to 69-37 midway through the second half. That left only the final margin in doubt. The record margin in the series — UK's 96-32 victory in 1995-96 — seemed safe.

UK improved its record against Morehead State to 11-0.

(c)2020 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC