CINCINNATI (AP) -- Marshall was within six points, and the two
sections of green-clad fans were starting to raise a ruckus and
anticipate an upset.
Gerald Fitch wouldn't let it happen.
The senior guard scored 24 points and made the decisive shots
down the stretch Monday night, helping No. 9 Kentucky hang on for
an 89-76 victory in the Wildcats' home away from home.
Fitch, who had a career-high 36 points against Tennessee Tech on
Friday, was the only consistent threat for Kentucky (3-0), which
let a 13-point lead dwindle to six in the closing minutes.
Fitch ended the comeback by hitting a pull-up jumper that
started the seven-point run that closed it out.
"You've got to have it every game, especially if you're going
to be the guy they depend on," said Fitch, who went 10-of-19 from
the field. "They got it down kind of close, and we were kind of
flat. I was just trying to pick it up."
Marshall (1-2) hit 10 3-pointers to keep Kentucky fidgety, but
missed its last five shots from behind the arc as it failed to
score over the last four minutes.
Ronny Dawn led Marshall with a career-high 23 points, going
7-of-9 on 3s to prevent the Wildcats from pulling away. He hit his
first five 3-point shots, several of them from behind the NBA line
on the floor.
"Ronny Dawn was excited to play," Marshall coach Ron Jirsa
said. "He was as hot as hot could be."
The overwhelming majority of the crowd of 13,913 wore blue and
white for Kentucky's annual visit to Cincinnati. The Wildcats are
8-1 all-time at the downtown arena, the only loss to Dayton in
Jirsa was an assistant at Dayton when it pulled off the upset.
He also was one of coach Tubby Smith's assistants at Tulsa and
Jirsa tried every sort of defense to slow Kentucky, with limited
success. The Wildcats took a 47-34 halftime lead by running fast
breaks and taking advantage of Marshall's front line.
Four turnovers set up a 13-point run that put Kentucky ahead to
stay 28-17 midway through the half. The Wildcats repeatedly had
players slip free inside for easy baskets, making up for their poor
Fitch had 12 points in the first half, when his main job was to
try to shut down Dawn after an early flurry of 3-pointers. The
junior guard shoots 42 percent from behind the arc, one of the best
marks in Marshall history.
"I'm disappointed in the way we defended the 3-point shot,"
Smith said. "We tried a number of people on Dawn and couldn't slow
him down. That's the biggest disappointment. That was our Achilles'
Dawn hit three consecutive 3s as Marshall stayed close in the
opening minutes. Fitch then chased him around the floor, limiting
him to one more 3-pointer in the half as Kentucky pulled ahead by
as many as 13 points.
By that point, the Wildcats sensed the game might come down to
whether they could stop Dawn.
"We kind of underestimated him, and he burned us," Daniels
said. "We knew he could shoot, but we didn't get out to guard him
Dawn hit two more 3s, and David Anderson had a pull-up jumper
and a three-point play that cut it to 64-60 with 11:18 left, making
the two sections of Marshall fans erupt. Smith huddled with his
coaches during a timeout, discussing a course of action.
The decision: take it inside. Azubuike's dunk started a 13-4
spurt, which he completed by stealing Dawn's crosscourt pass and
going in for another dunk.
Dawn made another long 3-pointer and Marvin Black dunked off a
rebound, cutting it to 82-76 with 4:27 to go. Fitch's pull-up
jumper ended the comeback.