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EJ Montgomery’s energy and effort was a perfect compliment to Quickley’s big night vs. Texas A&M

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While Immanuel Quickley solidified his case to be named the SEC Player of the Year, EJ Montgomery was showing why his coaches believe that his ‘breakthrough’ is basically here against the Aggies.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When Kentucky coach John Calipari was asked about EJ Montgomery’s eight-point, 10-rebound performance in the Wildcats’ 69-60 victory over Texas A&M for their seven straight win and 15th in the last 17 games, Calipari didn’t mince words.

“It was unbelievable. It’s the best I’ve seen him play,” Calipari said during his post-game press conference after Montgomery played 38 minutes with conference player of the year candidate Nick Richards in foul trouble virtually the entire evening.

Montgomery has had more productive games in terms of statistics, but when you factor in the spot he was elevated into with Richards being such a focal point of Texas A&M’s defense, plus Kentucky trying to avoid a trap road game with a two-game lead in the SEC, Montgomery’s performance was crucial in Kentucky officially clinching a top-4 seed in the SEC Tournament.

Immanuel Quickley made 11 of Kentucky’s 24 total field goals and the big shots down the stretch when the game felt tighter in his 30-point outing, but Montgomery played a part.

Montgomery’s offensive rebound count: 5, Texas A&M as a team: 6

Not only did Montgomery almost have as many offensive rebounds (5) as Texas A&M’s entire team (6), Kentucky was able to convert those second chances into points.

Kentucky’s had a fair share of issues, despite the hot streak they’ve been on since the turn of the new year, and one of those issues is allowing teams to hang around by not getting to ‘50/50 balls’ and not bringing the same energy that lesser opponents have. Montgomery grabbed five offensive rebounds against the Aggies, including this one early in the game.

This putback dunk for Montgomery off Tyrese Maxey’s missed floater was about as easy as the lob he caught from Maxey later in the game. Montgomery just soars into the air after nobody picked him up off the miss for the easy jam.

One thing that stood out with Montgomery off those rebounds was that he was always looking for an open man and making quick decisions with the basketball. He makes one here and Quickley cashes home one of his eight triples on the night.

This was one of Kentucky’s best possessions offensively and Montgomery was right in the thick of it. He grabs the miss off Ashton Hagans’ baseline floater attempt and the guards too advantage of the extra chance with the ball movement. Hagans drives again, kicks to Quickley and he finds Maxey completely open with an extra dish for 3.

Another one of Montgomery’s offensive rebounds led to another Kentucky triple here. Montgomery was stoned at the rim, but didn’t give up on the play to grab the board and escapes the chaos with a good kickout to Johnny Juzang. Quickley drains another 3 off a pretty no-look extra pass from Juzang for three of Kentucky’s 13 second-chance points.

This could’ve been a dire situation for Kentucky if Montgomery was seriously injured here, but in an odd way, was a perfect example to how important he was against the Aggies. These types of collisions unfortunately happen sometimes with loose balls, but this is the kind of effort that the coaches have been saying Montgomery can give.

A&M trimmed a once-14-point lead down to six earlier in the second half and tried to make a late push to make Kentucky sweat it out. Quickley’s bank shot and left wing 3 to seal it were the big things remembered down the stretch, but before the first big shot, Montgomery grabbed Quickley’s right wing miss to help the Cats burn some more time late.

It wasn’t just Montgomery’s rebounding that showed his impact

Whether it was picking off lazy passes or making life difficult for A&M around the basket, Montgomery was able to make plays on the other end of the floor, too.

Despite the foul trouble, Richards still played 27 minutes and as efficient as A&M was shooting the 3 (10-of-22 on the night), they had a tough time around the rim when both bigs were on the floor together.

According to the StatBroadcast shot chart, the Aggies missed 10 shots deep in the paint and of their six made layups/dunks, three of them came in the final 1:06 of the game with Kentucky seemingly in firm control of the game.

As one of the ‘EJ Montgomery Fan Club’ members, it probably has felt repetitive for some to hear over and over again that Montgomery is *thisclose* to breaking through that metaphorical glass ceiling holding him back from his real potential, but this is the first time in his career that it’s starting to feel like it can actually happen.

Now, if he has three points, two rebounds and four fouls in 17 minutes of action in the Auburn rematch on Saturday, then we’re probably right back to where we were with this discussion.

But, his coaches are still to really believe in Montgomery and when you watch his performance on Tuesday, it feels like Montgomery is starting to believe in his potential.