A college basketball season never ends the way you really want it to, unless you’re left standing at the end of March’s Madness. For the Providence Friars, they had plenty of chances to get past one of the game’s true blue bloods in the Kentucky Wildcats Friday night in the NCAA’s opening round.
But they couldn’t get around them. Or through them. Oscar Tshiebwe saw to that.
Listen live to WEEI
The 6-foot-9 reigning National Player of the Year and All-American only managed eight points, but his personal sledgehammer came from a near-tournament single-game record 25 rebounds – 11 on the offensive glass – as Kentucky held off Providence 61-53 in Greensboro, NC.
The team rebound margin of 48-31 overall was simply too much to overcome. Second-chance scoring opportunities for the Wildcats, and later in the game missed open shots for the Friars, conspired to leave PC falling short of their goal to advance.
“At the end of the day the game was won on the backboard,” said Providence coach Ed Cooley. “When you look at that, game, set and match.”
After a spectacular alley-oop slam from freshman Corey Floyd in the first half, the Wildcats responded with a 10-0 run thanks in large part to outside shooting from Antonio Reeves (22 points). PC closed to within seven at the half, 38-31, and scored the first four points in the opening three minutes of the second half.
Game on? Not quite.
“I thought that was the best defense we’ve played in about a month,” Cooley said. “You know, we didn’t capitalize on some of the mistakes they made, and they capitalized on ours.”
Kentucky kept the Friars at an arm’s length – or more – with shooting from Reeves and dribble-penetration from freshman Cason Wallace, who continually turned the corner on Friar guards and made plays on his shots and passes to the hoop. Providence was able to hang around, however, thanks to their overall defensive effort and pulled within four, 50-46, with 4:44 remaining.
The Friars could only manage two more field goals for the remainder of the game, while the ‘Cats closed things out at the free-throw line.
“It’s a lot of frustration,” said Friar guard Jared Bynum, who closed out his career with nine points and five assists. “At the end of the day I feel like we had a good year. You can say you wish you could win this game and all that, but you have to embrace the moment at the end of it.”
Providence ends its season at 21-12 overall, having lost seven of the final 11 games of a year that saw the team ranked as high as 17th in the Associated Press Top 25. But their coach has been the subject of much social media chatter as to his coaching future for the past two weeks.
The next week or two should provide some answers about what to expect from this team, and Ed Cooley, next season.