Doron Lamb added 20 points for the Wildcats and Brandon Knight had 17 points and five assists as Kentucky's latest batch of freshmen looked right at home in John Calipari's dribble-drive offense. Isiah Brown led the Buccaneers with 25 points, but the defending Atlantic Sun champions couldn't match Kentucky's firepower.
Jones scored Kentucky's first 12 points of the second half to break open a relatively tight game. The Wildcats, who ended last season making just 4 of 32 3-pointers in a loss to West Virginia, made 13 of 26 against the Buccaneers.
Kentucky played without freshman center Enes Kanter, who watched the game from the bench in a white sweatsuit. The school is appealing an NCAA ruling Thursday declaring the 6-foot-11 Kanter permanently ineligible because he received more than the necessary benefits while playing for a club in Turkey two years ago.
The Wildcats didn't need him, at least not against the Buccaneers. Kentucky outrebounded ETSU 51-33, blocked a handful of shots and held ETSU to 28 percent shooting in the second half. Jones led the way, shaking off a so-so start to lead the charge after the Buccaneers pulled within 50-40 with 18:11 to go.
He started his own personal run with a dunk, then hit two jumpers before adding a layup while getting fouled. He hit the free throw then knocked down a 3-pointer as Kentucky's lead ballooned to 62-42. ETSU would get no closer than 17 the rest of the way. Jones' 25 points tied the second-most by a Kentucky player making his debut. The game was a rematch of last season's opening NCAA tournament matchup, a 100-71 Kentucky win. Eight short months later, the stars that led Kentucky's renaissance in Calipari's first season on the bench are long gone. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe are now in the NBA.
In their place step Knight, Jones and Lamb. While Calipari has cautioned it's not fair to compare this year's freshman crop to last year's record-breaking class, he knows comparisons are inevitable. For a night at least, the new kids looked like they can hold their own. Knight, the latest in a string of top-rated high school point guards brought in by Calipari, was steady if not as spectacular as Wall.
Last season ended with an upset loss to West Virginia in the NCAA regional finals, a game in which the Wildcats made just 4 of 32 3-pointers. It took Kentucky all of nine minutes to knock down that many against the Buccaneers.
If Lamb and Knight were nervous about replacing Bledsoe and Wall, it didn't show. They shot the ball with confidence — taking several shots well behind the 3-point line — and didn't hesitate when open. Just as promising for the Wildcats, they didn't turn the ball over. Kentucky gave it away just 10 times and didn't force the issue.