LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Sam Cunliffe scored 17 points, including two free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining, and Evansville silenced Rupp Arena with an improbable 67-64 victory over No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday night.
K.J. Riley added 18 points as the Purple Aces – coached by Walter McCarty, who won a national title with Kentucky in 1996 – pulled off the biggest upset in program history with their first win over a No. 1 team in three tries.
Evansville (2-0) led much of the game and answered each Kentucky rally with clutch baskets to grab the lead and then maintain it for the season’s biggest upset. The Wildcats (2-1) were a 25-point favorite.
Kentucky had been 39-0 at home against unranked, nonconference opponents when ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll. Evansville, meanwhile, got its first-ever road win over an AP-ranked team.
Tyrese Maxey’s layup with 8 seconds remaining got Kentucky within 65-64, but with his teammates locking arms on the bench, Cunliffe stepped to the line and calmly made both ends of the 1-and-1 to seal the victory. The Purple Aces raised their hands and ran around a silent Rupp Arena after the final horn as the Wildcats slowly walked off.
Cunliffe did most of his damage with 15 first-half points off the bench.
Evansville won just 11 games last season, its first under McCarty, who played in the NBA for 10 years and was an assistant at Louisville under Rick Pitino and in the NBA before returning to his hometown to coach the Purple Aces.
Evansville made nine of 30 3-point attempts while shooting 38% from the field to Kentucky’s 37%.
Evansville: The Purple Aces stuck to their game plan, shooting from deep and outrunning the Wildcats. They trailed just once in the second half and dictated the tempo most of the night.
“We just believed and trusted each other and made plays for each other. Guys came out and gave their all. They’ve got a good basketball team. Kentucky’s going to be a really good team, going to be around at the end of it,” McCarty said. “We played a heck of a game tonight.”
Kentucky: Missed shots and turnovers forced the Wildcats to play from behind. Even when they managed to tie, they were beaten to loose balls and could never get over the hump on their home floor.
A week earlier, it was then-No. 2 Kentucky knocking off the top-ranked team, outlasting Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in the season opener for both squads. It’s the first time in AP poll history that two No. 1 teams have lost in November, and the Wildcats’ stay at the top of the poll will end next week.
Evansville hosts IU Kokoma on Thursday.
Kentucky hosts Utah Valley on Monday.
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