On a historic day for shockers and close calls, No. 16 Hampton set out to knock off unbeaten Kentucky on the final game of the day in Louisville in what would’ve likely qualified as the biggest upset in the history of the sport, let alone the biggest on Thursday.
The overmatched Pirates didn’t come close.
Trey Lyles set the tone in the opening minutes, ripping through the lane for a powerful one-handed slam to put the Wildcats up 3-0. Despite a little shakiness in the first half, it was all Kentucky from there, as the top-seeded Wildcats rolled to a 79-56 win.
Hampton hung tough early, with Kentucky leading just 18-14 with 8:27 left in the first frame. Even then, however the underdog’s significant disadvantage was evident. The Pirates were conspicuously avoiding Kentucky’s imposing height in the lane at all costs, taking stepback jumpers or fadeaways seemingly every offensive trip.
After beating Manhattan in the First Four on Tuesday, Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. jokingly called Jesus to ask for help in beating Kentucky, acknowledging the imbalance in the two teams’ size and talent—Hampton doesn’t have a single player taller than 6’8” who plays more than 20-plus minutes per game, while Kentucky has size and future NBA players in spades. The Wildcats used their hefty height advantage to pull away from Hampton, either by posting up smaller defenders or throwing it over the top of the defense for easy baskets.
A 14-0 run helped Kentucky take a 41-22 lead into halftime, and the Wildcats came out focused in the second half, opening with a 16-4 run punctuated by a three-pointer from Aaron Harrison that ended any hopes of a comeback.
The game likely would’ve gotten away from Hampton even faster had Kentucky not struggled a bit offensively in the first half, going 1-for-6 on three-pointers and missing multiple attempts from under the basket. Head coach John Calipari blamed some of the issues on his team having to sit in the locker room before the game for longer than expected, waiting it out as Cincinnati and Purdue went to overtime.
The eighth-seeded Bearcats ended up topping the Boilermakers, setting up a meeting with Kentucky on Saturday for a spot in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats were led on Thursday by Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Andrew Harrison, who chipped in 14 points. Hampton’s Quinton Chievous led all scorers with 22 points.
It was a tough way to end for the Pirates, but they still managed to record just their second NCAA tournament win in program history with their First Four victory earlier this week.