Kareem Canty (above) helped the Auburn Tigers earn an SEC hoops victory on Saturday.
Auburn, Ala.--Kentucky pressured junior Kareem Canty from start to finish, but Auburn's junior point guard held strong and was the catalyst in his team’s 75-70 upset victory vs. the 13th-ranked Wildcats on Saturday at Auburn Arena.
Averaging 18.5 points per game, Canty scored 26 points while adding four assists as the Tigers picked up their first basketball victory vs. a ranked opponent since defeating No. 23 Mississippi State on Feb. 18th, 2012.
Three-point shooting was a key to the victory as Auburn made a dozen of them with Canty making five treys on 12 attempts.
The point guard scored 21 of his points in the second half. “I stayed aggressive,” said Canty about his mentality during the contest. “(In the first half) I had to calm down. I was too anxious to beat them. Once I calmed down everything was alright.”
It’s understandable why Canty was anxious to play Kentucky. Growing up in the basketball-centric Harlem, N.Y., Canty said that there were two college teams that most young players really wanted to play for–Kentucky and Duke.
“I had a chance to play against them (Kentucky) this evening while the whole family was watching and the whole world was watching,” he said of the game that was televised on ESPN.
“I have a lot of people from my neighborhood who look up to me,” Canty pointed out. “I was too anxious to get going in the first half, and once I just calmed down, everything was easier.”
Coach Bruce Pearl was rightfully ecstatic with the win on Saturday, and he also had plenty of appreciation for his star guard’s effort and determination, along with graduate transfer Tyler Harris’s play, during the win.
“The efforts of Kareem Canty and Tyler Harris (were great),” said Pearl. “Those two kids from New York stepping up big, you could just see their heart out there. Kareem turned that ankle pretty good. That thing almost rolled all the way down that floor, and yet he stepped up. I obviously hope that we get him back for Tuesday.”
Harris posted a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds in front of a sellout crowd at Auburn Arena.
It’s not often that a player from a team with a 7-8 record talks confidently about its chances before a game with a perennial powerhouse like Kentucky, but senior forward Cinmeon Bowers said on Friday that he thought Auburn’s guards were better than Kentucky’s guards and could pull off the upset against a team the Tigers had not beaten since 2000.
“It feels good that he thinks that,” Canty said when asked about the senior’s statement. “I didn’t hear about that until today, and then I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve really got to step it up and back up his words.’ Cim, sometimes he says a lot of things, but I actually liked when he said that.”
This win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Tigers that prompted questions about how much fight was left in a slumping team that was plagued by injuries. Canty was asked what the key was to the team’s turnaround after going down by 12 points early in the second half. His response was simple. “Don’t quit. It’s easy to quit when you’re down. I didn’t want to quit and let my team down.”
The 8-8 (2-3 SEC) Tigers will have a short time to prepare for their next game vs. Alabama with tipoff set for 8 p.m. CST on Tuesday at Auburn Arena for a game that will be televised by the SEC Network. Alabama lost 71-63 on Saturday at Vandy, dropping its record to 10-6 overall and 1-3 in the SEC.