Tyrese Maxey is no stranger to the spotlight.
If his 26-point performance against the then-No. 1 ranked Michigan State Spartans in the Cats' (9-3) season opener at Madison Square Garden wasn’t enough, Maxey just added another breakout game against a ranked opponent to his résumé.
The freshman standout dropped a career-high 27 points as No. 19 ranked Kentucky defeated the third-ranked Louisville Cardinals at Rupp Arena in the highly touted annual ‘Battle of the Bluegrass’ in a 78-70 overtime thriller on Saturday evening. He made a career high nine field goals and shot 64% from the field while pulling down a career-high seven rebounds in the win.
“Tyrese loves those big games. Probably more than the quote-on-quote regular games. He loves the big spotlight,” guard Immanuel Quickley said. “Playing well in a game like this is no big stretch for him.”
That isn't surprising given that Maxey has talked before about enjoying the Rupp Arena's atmosphere. It’s certainly a big shift from his familiar confines of the the Dallas, Texas area's high school gymnasiums, but the 2019 Texas “Mr. Basketball” star says he’s enjoys the new scenery.
“The atmosphere was amazing. It was so loud at times that I couldn’t even hear coach Cal,” Maxey said.
In a near-capacity crowd of 20,437 roaring fans in a sea of Kentucky white and blue with sprinkles of Louisville red and white cheering and jeering to almost deafening decibels, Maxey navigated his way through the court right out the gate.
In the first half, he scored 13 points and was 4-for-5 from the field. Three of his four field goals were from downtown, including one trey that gave UK a 17-15 lead with 7:27 remaining in the first half. He finished the day shooting a career high 4-for-5 from downtown. Louisville wouldn’t lead again in the half from that point on as the Cats led 32-24 at halftime.
The Cats tried to keep the reins away from the Cards as UK led by 12 just three minutes into the second half. Maxey was quiet offensively coming out of halftime, but things flipped when Louisville went on a 16-5 run and regained the lead 46-45 with 9:33 remaining on a Steven Enoch three.
That’s when Maxey put on his invisible cape.
“I told y’all last time that I wouldn’t quit shooting. It’s gonna fall and it fell tonight. Coach just told us to fight. It’s a testament to what we’ve been doing in practice,” Maxey said.
Maxey reeled in a fastbreak shortly thereafter and drained a three to give UK the lead back. He scored six more points from that point on in regulation and even had a critical layup that gave the Cats a 61-59 lead with 32 seconds remaining in regulation.
After the Cards tied the game though, Maxey had a chance to seal the deal in the waning seconds of regulation. He gained penetration just right of the basket with three seconds left and shot what looked like a fadeaway jumper that just ended up just barely missing. Keion Brooks tried tipping in Maxey’s miss at the buzzer, but the ball rattled in and out to send the game to overtime.
Maxey delivered two free throws toward the end of overtime though and helped ice the victory. His 27 points are the most by any Wildcat against Louisville (11-2) since Jodie Meek’s 28-point performance in 2009. This all came all while Maxey finished the game with four fouls.
“He played good. I said he -- we put him and Immanuel, we were struggling to get a basket, so we were just going through two guys,” UK coach John Calipari said. “And again, it's because they're really, really good defensively. And so we had to move people around and put those two in positions to make baskets, and they did.”
Even in a sigh of defeat, Louisville head coach Chris Mack couldn’t help but tip his hat off to Maxey.
“He’s good. We knew that coming in. You know, he’s an explosive scorer,” Mack said. “Guys like that don’t lose their confidence easily. He is just a challenge. His ability to make threes was better than what it’s been.”
Maxey and his fellow comrades now enter the belly of the beast as they enter SEC play. They’ll be back at Rupp Arena next Saturday, Jan. 4 to take on the Missouri Tigers at 2 p.m.