As soon as he sat down in the chair to meet with reporters post-game, freshman Tyrese Maxey had a big smile on his face and sarcastically asked everyone how much they love heart-attack-worthy game endings.
For a guy who was joking about his team’s stress-inducing, close-game tendencies, he seemed awfully calm and collected during the last stretch of UK’s 65-59 win against Florida.
“We won, so it is what it is. Win by one or win by 20, you love it,” Maxey said.
The freshman has started in every game since Nov. 18, but had to step up in a different way against the Gators. With sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans still slightly recovering from a thigh contusion that happened during Tuesday’s UK vs. LSU game, head coach John Calipari decided to go with a different three-guard starting lineup. Rather than Hagans, Maxey and Immanuel Quickley, Calipari went with freshman Johnny Juzang in place of Hagans. That meant Maxey started at point guard.
“Ashton wasn’t able to start because of his leg, so I just took on the role of being the lead guard, trying to get people involved early,” Maxey said. “I think I was trying to get EJ Montgomery and Keion Brooks some shots and I think I did an OK job at that.”
Maxey finished with an all-around efficient stat line, flirting with a triple double and totaling 13 points, a team-high seven rebounds and seven assists, two steals and two turnovers. The win marked Maxey’s 19th game in double figures.
Like several of Kentucky’s games this season, a comfortable margin quickly vanished for the Cats late in the game, but Maxey didn’t flinch. After Quickley sank his fourth three-pointer of the game, extending the Cats’ lead to 61-53 with 1:34 left, Florida clawed back with three straight buckets to pull within 61-59 with 17 seconds to go. Cue Maxey and Quickley’s game-saving free throws.
Maxey was fouled with 11 seconds left and hit both of his shots, giving Kentucky a little more breathing room at a four-point lead. Then Quickley sealed the deal with a second left, hitting 2-of-2 from the foul line himself.
“And making those two free throws, folks, that’s the first time this year (Maxey) has done that,” Calipari said. “Listen, he’s either missed or gone 1-of-2—he’s not made two. Believe me, I’m watching every game.”
Junior forward and SEC Player of the Year candidate Nick Richards also bragged on his teammate for his near-triple double.
“We play basically three point guards, Ashton you know was a little bit banged up today, he was hurt, so Tyrese stepped up and just basically made all of our decisions today,” Richards said. “He made the right passes, got rebounds, defended, got a lot of steals, his game today was just amazing.”