It’s been a weird season for EJ Montgomery.
Coming into the year, many expected the sophomore forward to be UK’s best big man and a likely NBA Draft pick in the 2020 draft. After all, Montgomery came to UK with a world of potential as a top-10 recruit in the Class of 2018, and he was actually ranked ahead of Zion Williamson by 247 Sports.
Things haven’t quite played out that way, as Montgomery has struggled mightily to find any offensive rhythm, and over the first half of the season, his defense left a lot to be desired in a frontcourt that absolutely needed him to step up, even with Nick Richards becoming one of the best bigs in college hoops.
But Montgomery refused to let his shortcomings keep him from becoming an impact player for the Wildcats, as he’s quietly become a very nice paint defender and a rim protector, which has helped UK rank 13th nationally in effective field-goal percentage defense and 13th in block percentage. (13.9%).
The 6-10 Florida native has also become a solid rebounder who continues to get more comfortable with being a physical presence in the paint, something he was very averse to when the year began.
That was where Montgomery made his biggest impact in UK’s 67-62 win over Ole Miss, a game in which he did not even attempt a shot, but he came up with some critical rebounds to save the day for the Cats.
None were more important that what Montgomery did with under two minutes left and UK trailing by one. With 1:43 left in the game, Tyrese Maxey attempted a three-pointer that missed badly, and had the Rebels grabbed the rebound, their chances of holding on for victory significantly increase.
That’s when Montgomery made the play of the day, diving for the loose ball and corralling the rebound before hitting Maxey for a driving layup that essentially was the game-winning play.
Montgomery finished the day with a game-high eight boards, four of which were on the offensive end, before fouling out in the final minute. He finished with no attempted field goals but did go 2/2 from the charity stripe.
”That’s a will to win,” John Calipari said after the game while also calling that sequence “ “the game-winning play.”
It’s not been the season Montgomery envisioned himself, but he deserves a lot of credit for keeping his head down and continuing to become someone who makes game-winning plays without scoring. UK is going to need a lot more of it to make a deep run in March.