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EJ Montgomery draws praise from John Calipari for key plays during rally

EJ made a big impact that helped Kentucky rally from double digits to beat the Gators.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

EJ Montgomery may not be getting the minutes he’d hoped to have at this point in his freshman season, but he continues to find ways to make a positive impact in his limited playing time.

That continued against the Florida Gators, where he played in just 10 minutes and didn’t even attempt a field goal.

But Montgomery still found ways to help ensure the Wildcats came out of Gainesville with a hard-fought victory.

At the 10-minute mark of the first half, Kentucky trailed 17-13 and were threatening to extend their lead. But as Deaundrae Ballard went for looked like an easy layup, Montgomery exploded for a block that sparked a mini 5-0 run to give Kentucky a rare first-half lead.

But the biggest impact he made came late in the second half with the Cats trailing. The first big play came with 12:32 left and Florida up 42-32 when PJ Washington missed a free throw that Montgomery rebounded to extend the possession, which would end with a Keldon Johnson tip-in to cut the lead to eight.

Then with 9:19 left and Florida up 42-39, Montgomery grabbed another offensive board that led to a pair of free throws by Tyler Herro to trim the deficit to one.

It’s easy to forget those plays, but they ultimately helped Kentucky go on a 9-0 run to get back in the game after it was seemingly lost.

That’s why John Calipari was effusive in his praise of Montgomery during the postgame press conference.

“I’m so happy for EJ Montgomery, because I thought he was the difference in the game, because we needed one more big guy to do something, to go get balls, to come up off the floor, to go be active defensively. He guarded the ball.”

Florida head coach Mike White admitted that first offensive board in the second half was a huge play, even calling it “deflating” for his Gators.

Montgomery’s offense is still a major work in progress, but if he can continue to rebound and defend the rim well, he’ll continue to make a big impact for a Kentucky team that continues to become a title contender.