GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Antonio Reeves scored 22 points and Oscar Tshiebwe pulled down 25 rebounds in an overpowering display, helping Kentucky beat Providence 61-53 in Friday night’s first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tshiebwe’s rebounding work was the second-most in the tournament since 1973, and 11 of his rebounds came on the offensive glass — a big factor in the sixth-seeded Wildcats (22-11) staying in control as both offenses grinded to a halt after halftime.
With the two-time Associated Press All-American grabbing just about every loose ball, Kentucky finished with a 48-31 rebounding advantage, controlling the offensive glass (plus-10) and dominating in second-chance points for an 18-2 edge.
On a day when neither team shot well after halftime, that boardwork was vital to sending Kentucky on to face the Montana State-Kansas State winner Sunday in the East Region — a big turnaround from last year’s surprising first-round exit against 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s.
Reeves hit five 3-pointers to lead the offense, while Jacob Toppin had his own big game with 18 points. Tshiebwe managed eight points, but he was still an indomitable force that the 11th-seeded Friars (21-12) just couldn’t manage.
When it was over, Tshiebwe emerged from a TV postgame interview by gleefully skipping his way off the court toward the locker room.
Kentucky won while shooting just 36.5%.
Ed Croswell scored 16 points for Providence, which shot just 36.2% while making 5 of 24 3-pointers.
The game set up a reunion between Providence star Bryce Hopkins and the Kentucky program he left behind as a transfer in search of a bigger role. Hopkins came in averaging 16.1 points, but finished with just seven on 2-for-9 shooting in a tough night while being chased primarily by Toppin.
Providence: The Friars have been to the NCAAs seven times in the past nine seasons under Ed Cooley, including last year’s Sweet 16 before falling to eventual champion Kansas. But they entered this game just 3-6 in NCAA games under Cooley, whose only other tournament win before last year came in the 2016 first round.
Kentucky: A year earlier, Kentucky entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed with Tshiebwe set to become The Associated Press national player of the year. But instead of returning to the Final Four for the first time since 2015, the Wildcats suffered that devastating St. Peter’s loss that had hung over the program all season. This time, the Wildcats got off to a successful though grinding start to March Madness.
Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler had left open the possibility of returning for this one after missing more than a month due to a right ankle injury. The senior guard was on the bench but didn’t play, missing his 10th straight game.
The upset by 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson against No. 1 seed Purdue drew a captivated audience in Greensboro Coliseum, with live look-ins being shown on the scoreboard.
During one timeout, with Fairleigh Dickinson up five in the final seconds, fans in Greensboro began chanting “FDU! FDU!” and booing whenever the game was taken off the scoreboard even when Providence-Kentucky had resumed on the court below.