GREENSBORO, N.C. — 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, and Jacob Toppin had his own big game with 18 points. Tshiebwe managed 8 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 percent.
Ed Croswell scored 16 points for Providence, which shot just 36.2 percent, 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.