MIAMI, Fla. – Playing against the No. 1-ranked team in the nation does not happen very often and neither does playing in an NBA arena.
Jahmal McMurray was able to do both in just his sixth game into his freshman season at USF and although the Bulls were unable to pull off the upset against Kentucky falling 84-63, it was a positive experience for McMurray leading the Bulls with 13 points.
“This experience right here was once in a lifetime,” McMurray said. “A lot of people don’t get to do this and for me to be one of those I’m very blessed.”
McMurray, a 2014 graduate of Highland Park, also had three rebounds as he made 6 of 14 shots from the field, 1 of 5 from behind the arc, in 29 minutes. He is now averaging 13.3 points through six games for USF (1-5).
McMurray entered the game as a sub—like he has the previous five games—five minutes into the game and immediately turned the ball the first time he touched it.
But after his only turnover of the game, McMurray settled down and got himself into a groove including knocking down jumpers on back-to-back possession to cut the USF deficit to 17-12.
“It felt good actually to see my first two shots go in because my first couple of shots haven’t been going in the past few games,” McMurray said. “That kind of got me in a good rhythm and not play bad and keep going.”
McMurray showed his excitement after his shots and then Kentucky (6-0) standout point guard Tyler Ulis knocked down a 3 on the ensuing possession and got in McMurray’s face afterwards.
“At the beginning of the game he was talking a little trash so I was like alright and when I came off of the screen and I got a bucket I looked right at him and I told him, ‘Y’all are sweet. Y’all really aint like that,” McMurray said. “And then when he came back and made it in the zone we just started going back and forth. It was fun though.”
Moments later McMurray banked in a 3-pointer to pull within 27-21, which would be the closest they would be the rest of way as Kentucky went on a 15-0 run to close out the half to take a 42-21 lead into the break.
Despite being outscored by 21 in the first half, USF was even the rest of the way with each team scoring 42 in the second half.
“If we fight like this against other teams I see us winning a lot more games if we just do how we did against this team, we’re going to be good, we’ll be fine,” McMurray said.
McMurray also hit three jumpers in the second half.
Ulis only played 14 minutes after suffering a right elbow injury, but McMurray was able to take things away from facing him and the other Kentucky guards including Jamal Murray (21 points) and Isaiah Briscoe (six points, seven assists).
“I learned it just takes fight and talking,” McMurray said of facing a talented team like Kentucky. “I know I have to talk more as a leader and as a point guard on the team. This game taught me out how to lead better from watching their guards and picking up a few things from them as far as how they just get people organized and just how they work.”
There was about 5,500 people in the stands, most of which wearing Kentucky blue, in USF’s first game away from home.
“I love that because it brings out the best of me with how they were guarding us and how they were playing and how competitive they were just brings more fight in me,” McMurray said.
McMurray was able to soak in the atmosphere of playing at American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, McMurray’s favorite NBA team.
“To be able to play in this arena is just a wonderful feeling,” McMurray said. “You don’t get nothing better than this as a college athlete.”
There were a number of people in Topeka that watched the game, which was televised nationally on ESPN.
“I was pretty aware,” McMurray said. “I got a lot of messages. Just after the game I got a lot of notification on all of the social media things. I got a good fan base back home and I just love all of my people.”
McMurray and the Bulls return to action on Sunday (1:00 p.m. CT, ESPN3) at home against Savannah State.