LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)Antonio Reeves scored 22 points, CJ Fredrick had 20 and Kentucky opened the season by beating Howard 95-63 on Monday night with All-American Oscar Tshiebwe and two other players sidelined.
Tshiebwe, the consensus national player of the year, had a procedure last month on his right knee and anticipated being back for the opener. But other than some pregame stretching and receiving his Naismith Trophy – one of six awards he collected last spring along with being named Associated Press player of the year – he was a bystander and cheerleader.
Point guard Sahvir Wheeler (right leg) leg and sophomore forward Daimion Collins (personal reasons) were also out, leaving the Wildcats with eight scholarship players. They still shot 55% against the overmatched Bison.
Reeves, an Illinois State transfer who averaged 20.1 points per game last season for the Redbirds, hit 6 of 12 from 3-point range and 8 of 16 overall. Fredrick, who transferred from Iowa but missed last season with a hamstring injury, shot 6 of 9 overall and 2 of 5 from beyond the arc.
”Chemistry was definitely out there,” Reeves said. ”We all moved the ball pretty well. (We) ran the floor pretty well – rebounded and got a couple of assists through there. I think the whole team had a great game today and we just have to move on to the next game.”
Added Fredrick, ”I was just so locked in on what I had to do to get a win that I didn’t think about being out so long.”
Jacob Toppin and freshman Cason Wallace each added 15 points for Kentucky, which made 34 of 62 shots from the field and 11 of 24 3-pointers. Toppin also had 11 rebounds.
Kobe Dickson made 8 of 9 shots for 17 points and Elijah Hawkins had 14 for Howard, which shot 34%. The Bison briefly led 3-2 but were soon overwhelmed by the longer, faster Wildcats.
Kentucky led 49-26 at halftime and shot 58% in the second half to extend its advantage. The Wildcats made 16 of 28 free throws and outscored the Bison just 36-28 in the lane, but both were enough to offset the absence of 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe.
”The biggest thing is we’re doing it without that post presence right now,” coach John Calipari said. ”We’re not able to get in there like we’d like to. But CJ and Antonio. … Antonio was unbelievable.”
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Wallace finished with nine assists and eight rebounds, nearly becoming the first Kentucky player with a triple-double since Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox each recorded one in 2016.
”I didn’t know until late in the game,” Wallace said. ”Lance (Ware) was like `Yo, everybody box out, let Cason get the rebound.’ That’s my man right there. … I’m getting one this year.”
Howard: The Bison didn’t convert consecutive baskets until late in the first half and only four times all night. They did manage to lead Kentucky on the glass for a while, especially offensively (13-10), but were no match once Kentucky became more assertive. Howard was 7 of 25 from long range and struggled to get back on the other end.
”Some of the things we did offensively really hurt us on the defensive end,” coach Kenneth Blakeney said. ”We didn’t execute our offense, we struggled to get into our offense, we struggled through our plays. All credit to Kentucky and their defense. They did an outstanding job of taking us out of our plays.”
Kentucky: The absences of all three regulars opened up a lot of minutes for others, and the results were encouraging. Reeves and Fredrick were a strong backcourt tandem, and the Wildcats showed depth in outscoring Howard’s bench 32-15.
Howard hosts UDC on Wednesday night in the first of three meetings between Washington-area schools.
Kentucky hosts Duquesne on Friday night.
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