LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Elston Turner’s first 20 points on Saturday had Kentucky fans at Rupp Arena squirming in their seats.
The next 10 had the Big Blue faithful moaning and groaning.
By the time the Texas A&M swingman surged to a career-high 40, the crowd of 24,193 could do nothing but tip its collective hat. Turner received a standing ovation from the fans upon checking out of the game in the final minute. He had earned it by delivering one of the most memorable individual performances in the history of the building in leading the Aggies to an 83-71 win over the Wildcats in the first Southeastern Conference matchup between the two programs.
“One of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of,” said Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy. “And at Rupp Arena.”
"That was crazy what he was doing out there," said Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow. "I have never played against something like that before."
Even UK coach John Calipari, who suffered only his second loss at home in four years with the Wildcats, was left just short of awe.
“The NBA coaching, obviously, there were a couple of guys who could do that to you,” he said. “In college, that was like, phenomenal… That performance was as good as it gets.”
Turner, a senior guard from California and the son of former Ole Miss and NBA player Elston Turner Sr., was 14 of 19 from the floor and went 6-for-10 from 3-point range. He also made all six of his free throw attempts in obliterating his previous career high of 26 points set earlier this season against Troy and Houston.
In doing so, he joined a short list of opponents to score 40 or more points in Rupp Arena, including Navy’s David Robinson (45 in 1987) and LSU’s Chris Jackson (41 in 1990). Turner was the first, however, to do it in a winning effort. Kentucky defeated Robinson and the Midshipmen 80-69 and held off Jackson (and Shaquille O’Neal’s Tigers) 100-95 in one of Rupp Arena’s all-time classic games.
“I just stepped back and watched the show for a minute like everybody else did,” said Texas A&M guard Fabyon Harris, who contributed 14 points in the win. “I am used to seeing Elston do that in practice. He just showed he could do that on the big stage, and he did that tonight.”
Turner, who had 25 points by halftime, said he had a good feeling about the game after going through the team’s walk-through at the arena earlier in the day.
“At shoot-around today, I could just feel it,” he said. “I kind of liked the rims and got a good feel for the balls. I just thank God for this. This is something I’ve been wanting for my whole life. To play Kentucky and have an opportunity to play one of the premier teams in the country, it was a great team win.”
When Turner was jokingly asked how he only averaged 15.5 points per game entering the trip to Kentucky, Kennedy intercepted the question with a smile: “Coach.”
“I was just going with the flow,” Turner added. “I didn’t really pay attention to who was guarding me or what they were trying to do. I was just trying to get our team going. We had confidence that we could beat this team, and my teammates did a great job of looking for me.”
Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel had a stat line that included 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocked shots, six assists and four steals. (KyScout photo by Jeff Drummond)
Despite Turner’s heroics, Kentucky (10-5, 1-1 SEC) managed to keep the game interesting for most of the day. The game featured nine ties and 13 lead changes with the Wildcats grabbing their biggest lead of the contest, 62-58, with 6:12 remaining.
What unfolded from that point left Calipari and the crowd stunned. The Aggies went on a 16-1 run, including nine points by Harris and the last two 3-pointers of the day for Turner, to bury the Wildcats.
"It was a situation I had talked to the team yesterday about," said Calipari, whose team allowed Vanderbilt to mount an 18-0 second-half run on Thursday in Nashville. "Gut time. Stopping runs. Stop the bleeding. And they were listening to what I was saying, but I don't think they heard me, what you do offensively and defensively, because we've had Maryland do it to us, Duke do it to us, Vanderbilt the other night do it to us... You're not winning that way."
Texas A&M (12-3, 2-0 SEC) joined fellow Lone Star State program Baylor as the only visiting teams to beat UK under Calipari at Rupp Arena. The Bears downed the Wildcats 64-55 on December 1.
Lost in buzz surrounding Turner’s memorable performance was an impressive effort by Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel. The freshman center scored 15 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked seven shots, dished out six assists and recorded four steals.
Freshman guard Archie Goodwin scored 17 points to lead UK in scoring.
• Pete Maravich holds the top four scoring games against Kentucky in program history. He had performances of 62, 55 and 52 points (twice) from 1968-70 at LSU. Maravich had six of the 19 previous 40-plus scoring games against the Wildcats.
• The all-time series between Kentucky and Texas A&M is tied at 2-2. The last time the two teams met was in 1979.
• Kentucky is 10-0 when leading at the half, 0-5 when trailing. The Aggies led 36-31 at the intermission.
• Kentucky returns to action Tuesday with its third game in a six-day span as the Wildcats play host to Tennessee in a 7 p.m. ET tip on ESPN.