NASHVILLE — The arrow flew past several bodies before reaching its target: Jonny David’s heart.
Soon after impact, the Kentucky walk-on looked down at his wound in disbelief. His consciousness slipped, and he began teetering backwards.
Teammate EJ Floreal was there to break David’s fall. The fellow reserve caught him in both arms, laid his body softly on a nearby chair and then lovingly closed both of David’s eyelids.
“He passed away,” Floreal said afterwards. “So I had to make sure he was okay.”
That type of intricate act is becoming commonplace on the Wildcats bench, which is in prime condition for photo opportunities at next week’s NCAA tournament.
Kentucky’s defeat of Alabama in Friday’s SEC quarterfinal featured at least three mimed shots: Two from star guard Jamal Murray — who fired the fatal arrow into David’s heart — and one from typically reticent senior forward Alex Poythress.
The “bow and arrow” celebration has become a national story; nearly every player in Kentucky’s locker room was asked about it on Friday night.
SEC Country went looking for answers of its own, and the Wildcats did not disappoint.
Floreal said the ritual began earlier this season, when he stole the “bow and arrow” from Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews and began firing it at Murray during Kentucky’s game against Ohio State in December.
“I decided I would bring it to college,” Floreal said. “Then Jamal took notice so he started shooting them back. Then it blew up.”
The move is simple: When a player hits a 3-pointer, he reaches back with his right hand, grabs an arrow out of his quiver, places it on his bow and then pulls the bow back before releasing it at the Kentucky bench (which has probably already released an arrow of its own at the shooter). Think Hunger Games meets Semi-Pro.
Murray’s first rebuttal came at Vanderbilt last month, but television cameras didn’t pick up on it until this past weekend against LSU.
Against the Tigers, Murray’s return shot resulted in a sideline defibrillation for Floreal’s heart that went viral.
Some of the act is improvised, but Floreal’s theater troupe plans most of the details either right before or during the games.
“We kinda freestyle it at the same time,” Floreal said. “But we talk just to make sure we don’t look dumb out there and we don’t have three people getting shot by one arrow.”
It’s an extension of the Wildcats’ off-court activities. Murray often rides around team facilities on a Segway while shooting teammates with a Nerf bow-and-arrow toy.
Mulder sees a larger meaning behind the silliness.
“It’s all just about support,” he said. “We have a lot of fun as a group on and off the floor, so I think it just kind of bleeds through to the games. We’re always having fun together.”
When reporters approached Murray after Friday’s game, he explained his role.
“I haven’t seen what they’ve done (tonight),” Murray said. “I’ll see it in a second. I just know that my job is to shoot the shot and shoot EJ with the arrow. That’s just my job. After that, I don’t know what happens.”
He had a great view of Kentucky’s second arrow, though; the one launched by Poythress.
Kentucky’s big man hit four 3-pointers on Friday (double his season total), including one that came with Murray on the bench. Sensing an opportunity, Poythress reached back and fired an arrow at Murray, who went wild.
“I was shocked,” Murray said. “I didn’t know that was coming.”
It’s to the point where arrows can come from any source at any time. But it’s a good bet that the bench buddies who got it rolling — Floreal, Mulder and David — will be on the receiving end.
And when the next arrow flies, they will be ready.
“I’ll talk to EJ,” David said. “I’ll talk to Mike. We’ll figure something out.”
What’s next: Kentucky faces either Georgia or South Carolina in the SEC tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon (3:30-4 p.m., ESPN).