Tyler Herro told Arkansas’ Mason Jones that “I’m a bucket” while he tried to ice the game away at the free throw line late in Kentucky’s 70-66 victory over the Razorbacks on Tuesday night and no truer words have ever left his mouth since he arrived in Lexington.
The super two-way wing scored a season-high 29 points on 9-of-10 shooting (!) with five triples in six attempts (!!) and a perfect 6-for-6 shooting night at the charity stripe.
Kentucky needed every bit of Herro’s performance, which from the sounds of things on the SEC Network broadcast, came on a bum ankle (that Herro later admitted it was his Achilles that was bothering him more than his ankle to Laura Rutledge in his post-game interview, which is a more scarier topic).
Herro’s had some stellar games this season (at Louisville and at Auburn, leading to his “Road Herro” nickname), but this one may have been not only his best, but his most important late in the season with the Cats facing Tennessee on Saturday, still fighting for the SEC regular season crown, a 1-seed in the SEC Tournament and a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Outside of PJ Washington, there may not be a more important piece to Kentucky’s success than Herro and that includes Reid Travis.
Let’s dive into what made Herro so good on Tuesday night against the Hogs, starting with something he’s been good at from the jump.
Herro likes those painted area shots in front of the line, but with it being contested well here, he does a great job finding Hagans, then immediately moving without the ball, allowing Hagans to drive and kick back to him for an easy 3 after setting his feet.
Remember, kids: always keep moving on the floor.
Kentucky’s perimeter defense, specifically guarding the 3-point shot, was atrocious on Tuesday night and the Hogs’ 10-for-20 shooting performance confirms it.
On this possession, Keldon Johnson gets caught in the air on a shot fake and Herro (on the left wing) gets caught watching the basketball and leaves Isaiah Joe (the main culprit of Arkansas’ hot shooting) an open look from deep that Nick Richards had no real chance of helping on. These things happen. Nobody’s perfect. But, they happened too often for Kentucky on Tuesday.
Herro later made up for it with a fantastic scramble block with the Hogs in transition and added to it on the other end of the floor, which really may have got him going.
On the other end of the floor with Kentucky down eight and really struggling to take care of the basketball, Herro hits one of a couple bailout shots that gave you a glimpse into his NBA future. This is the type of stuff he’s going to be asked to do.
It was late into the shot clock and Herro hit an NBA-range 3-ball and that’s something teams want to see from him and know he can do. If you give him a hint of space and time to set his feet, he’ll burn you.
Speaking of the NBA, if Herro’s making these kinds of shots with creating separation and getting clean looks at the rim (despite it maybe not being the best shot), you might be in trouble and Arkansas eventually was against the Cats.
This is a tough shot for anybody at any level and Herro cans it. If you want a stereotypical white hooper to evaluate this shot to, think stellar rookie Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks with using that final step to create so much space to shoot on a stepback attempt.
Ashton Hagans makes this play to get the Hogs’ lead back into single digits during the second-half comeback from 15 down, but Herro was so witty on this play to poke it away and run out on the break.
Kentucky’s defense was such a mess before Hagans and Herro broke out and their confidence grew this season. With them making these plays, Kentucky can be as good as anyone.
Hagans did a good job penetrating and kicking to Washington on the baseline, followed by a perfect find from him to Herro for an open 3 to keep Kentucky in the hunt, but, uh, why leave him (and Johnson for that matter) that open?
Here’s the play at full speed:
Of course, it was Herro that knocked down the go-ahead triple that put Kentucky ahead for good, but he can thank two people for it: Joe and Johnson (not to be confused with 7-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson).
Johnson gets great middle penetration and with Isaiah Joe collapsed down way too hard on the drive, Johnson makes the right play on the kickout to Herro, who is completely open for 3 and when he’s shooting like he was on Tuesday, put it in the books.
Kentucky tried to get out and run off some misses in the first half and they really struggled taking care of the basketball against an athletic Arkansas side. Joe’s not a lockdown defender, but Herro did a fantastic job of moving quick (not fast, there’s a difference) with a jab step right to create his chance to drive into the lane for the easy layup. You see him down this a lot on the drive from the arc. He does a good job of selling the jab step to create an opening.
Survey says: Tyler Herro is in fact, a bucket.
Tuesday was Herro’s ninth straight game of scoring 11 points or more and in that nine-game span, he’s scored 17+ points four times and averaged 16.1 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the field on a 10-attempt-per-game average, along with shooting 47.5 percent on 4.4 3-point attempts per contest.
Kentucky’s going to need some buckets with 11.3 points-per-game scorer Reid Travis on the shelf for a little while longer. Luckily for them, Tyler can be and has been their Herro at times.