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Randle's Credit to Basketball Gods is Humble and Deflective

This story appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Basketball is sponsored by Republic Bank.

Julius Randle’s put-back with 3.9 seconds left in overtime lifted No. 18 Kentucky to a 77-76 win over LSU on Saturday at Rupp Arena.

James Young drove the ball with about seven seconds, and a double team collapsed on him. He put up a shot through contact, though no foul was called, and it was blocked. Randle was charging in from the top of the key, and he was in perfect position to grab the rebound and go back up with it.

Kentucky (21-6, 11-3) shuffled back quickly on defense, and LSU never got off a final shot. The Tigers turned it over near half-court, and Young came away with the ball. The Wildcats dog-piled in celebration in the corner of the court.

Kentucky native Anthony Hickey, the MVP of the 2011 Sweet 16 from Christian County, was LSU’s offense late in the second half and into overtime. He finished with 20 points, including a 28-footer with 1:46 to play in regulation to give the Tigers a 64-63 lead.

Andrew Harrison made a pair of free throws with 10.9 seconds left in the second half to tie the game at 65. Hickey missed a long three over Randle as time expired in regulation to extend it to overtime.

Randle Credits Basketball Gods

Julius Randle was clear that he believed the basketball gods owed him. He said so plainly Saturday, that LSU had dogged him and forced him to miss 13 of his first 18 shots in two games against the Tigers and that things generally balance themselves out at some point. The basketball gods thing makes for an easy explanation of something that was as inexplicable as Randle’s game-winner in a 77-76 overtime win over LSU.

Randle was standing at the top of the key with about seven seconds left in overtime. Kentucky was down one. Andrew Harrison dished to James Young, and Young drove to the basket. Randle took a step or so in, but he was still 18 feet out. Young went up for a shot at the rim, but Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey—Mickey leads the SEC in blocked shots—altered Young’s shot. No foul was called, even though Young was on his way down and near the ground by the time he let go of the ball.

Randle was sprinting in straight at the hoop, and the attention to Young kept LSU from getting a body on Randle. Young’s shot never made it to the rim—it appeared as if O’Bryant blocked it, but no credit was given in the officials stats for a block or even a field-goal attempt for Young—and the ball floated in the air. Randle was there, gathered it in to his body from his right, and he went straight up with it. Considering the rush of the moment and urgency of the clock, Randle’s touch in the moment was surprising. It would have been easy, a non-basketball player can assume, to chuck one off the back of the rim. But he lofted the ball up soft, and it never touched the rim in Young’s miss nor in Randle’s make.

The whole basketball gods thing is cute and quotable, but it’s ultimately an easy, understandable way for a teenager to deflect praise. Randle seemed like a completely different person than he had in any interviews to this point in the season. In post-game interviews, he was laughing and talking at much greater length than usual. He was making jokes. He was opening up. The moment opened him up—that much was clear when the team dogpiled on top of him after the final buzzer—and he was much more eager to talk about Young’s aggression toward the basket and Andrew Harrison’s free-throw shooting than his own play. Young and Harrison were good, and his game-winner was random.

He should be commended for his humility, and he should also be set straight: Yes, be humble and thank the basketball gods, but also know: That play was not random. That play only happened because he knew what to do and where to be, because there was a chance the ball would end up in that exact space. Then the person in that exact space needed the inconceivable reflexes to grab the ball when it rocketed off a defender’s hand at an unexpected angle. Then once that person in that exact space with the inconceivable reflexes needed to have the wherewithal to know he had to get a shot off quickly but not too quickly, that time was running out but it wasn’t worth putting up a bad shot with three LSU defenders under the basket to grab it off the rim.

Whatever role the basketball gods had in Saturday’s outcome came well before Saturday. Randle is an elite basketball player who did what he knew to do to make a game-winning play. Any and all explanations for how Randle became what he is are on the table.

Photo: Julius Randle/James Pennington