Former Jayhawk Sam Cunliffe helps Evansville knock off No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena

Evansville's Sam Cunliffe, left, is fouled by Kentucky's Ashton Hagans, right, late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Cunliffe hit the two free throws. Evansville won 67-64. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Any time Kentucky falls, a not-so-small section of the Kansas basketball fan base lets out a little cheer.

When that loss comes at the hands of someone who is tied to the KU program, that cheer gets a little louder.

That was exactly what happened on Tuesday night, when John Calipari’s newly-top-ranked Wildcats fell at home to unranked Evansville, 67-64, in a game the Purple Aces pretty much controlled from start to finish.

Former KU guard Sam Cunliffe, who sat out last season after transferring from KU following the 2017-18 season, played a rather significant role in helping Evansville pull off the upset.

In 29 minutes off the bench, Cunliffe scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds to help lead the Aces to victory. He shot 6-of-13 from the floor, 2-of-6 from 3-point range and sank two clutch free throws in the final seconds to force the Wildcats to try to tie the game with a 3-pointer instead of having all options available.

After the game, Cunliffe talked with national college hoops analyst Jeff Goodman about the victory and had some kind words to say about Kansas and Bill Self, who sent Cunliffe a congratulatory text after the win.

“It was the first text I responded to,” Cunliffe told Goodman. “He was really hard on me. Seeing that text from him meant a lot to me. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I dd tonight without Kansas. Coach Self made me tougher.”

In two games with the Purple Aces (2-0), Cunliffe is averaging 17 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes per game off the bench.

After starting his career at Arizona State and transferring to KU after a semester, Cunliffe sat out the second semester of 2016-17 season and the first of the 2017-18 season before appearing in 15 games with the Jayhawks during their run to the Final Four in 2018.

Opportunity was always the issue for Cunliffe. At least at Kansas. And now that he’s in his first year of competition at Evansville after redshirting the 2018-19 season, the redshirt junior from Seattle appears to have found a place that is willing to give him consistent minutes.


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