But the team also felt the Wooden Award winner’s absence when he fouled out in the first overtime in Michigan State‘s 86-77 double-overtime win over No. 4 Kentucky in the Champions Classic.
“That was the coach’s decision [to allow me to play],” Tshiebwe said Tuesday after missing the team’s first two games while he recovered from arthroscopic surgery. “I went through rehab and everything was good. I was just going to play a little bit. The game was really tough and I had to play. I feel really good.”
Tshiebwe did not waste time showing the crowd, which featured a multitude of NBA scouts and executives including Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, why he has a chance to match Ralph Sampson Jr. as the only two-winner of the Wooden Award.
Along with his double-double, he also finished with four blocks and finished 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
But the Kentucky star also demonstrated some of the challenges that come with missing a month of practice following his surgery in October.
He had five turnovers. He settled for a tough jump shot that clanked off the rim toward the end of regulation. He also got lost on a Michigan State inbounds play when Malik Hall scored in the final seconds of regulation and sent the game into its first overtime.
Kentucky was outscored 17-7 after Tshiebwe picked up his fifth foul with 32 seconds remaining in the first overtime.
“Oscar isn’t Oscar yet,” Tom Izzo said after the game.
John Calipari said Tuesday was the first time the team had played together due to injuries. And Daimion Collins has missed time due to the death of his father. Calipari said all of that impacted the Wildcats down the stretch of a close game.
“We weren’t ready,” he said after the game. “I told them in the locker room, ‘We’re not ready for teams that are ready to finish the end of games.’ They executed better than us.”
But Tuesday’s game also allowed Michigan State to shine four days after it suffered a 64-63 loss to No. 2 Gonzaga on an aircraft carrier in San Diego. The Spartans don’t have an NBA lottery pick on their roster. Joey Hauser (23 points) and Co., however, played with the grit that’s defined Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State and secured a win over a Kentucky team with Final Four potential.
Izzo said he thought the Spartans caught Kentucky at a time when the team is still trying to adjust to Tshiebwe’s return.
“That’s a really good team and they will be a great team, so all the Kentucky fans: don’t jump off the ship,” he said. “With [Tshiebwe] just coming back, it’s not easy to bring a guy like him in and everything goes smooth.”
Tshiebwe entered the game after the first TV timeout with 14:55 to go in the first half when Kentucky had a 6-4 lead over Michigan State.
The return of Tshiebwe, who will reportedly make a seven-figure sum on name, image and likeness deals this season, extended a strong week for Calipari, who received a commitment from D.J. Wager on Monday.
Wagner, the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class per ESPN, picked Kentucky over Louisville, its chief rival.
Kentucky will now face South Carolina State on Thursday before traveling to Spokane, Washington, to face No. 2 Gonzaga on Sunday.
Following Tuesday’s game, Tshiebwe said his team will continue to grow now that it’s healthy.
“We prepared and we made a couple of mistakes,” Tshiebwe said. “We’re going to work on those and we’re going to get better for the next game.”
Oscar Tshiebwe dominates season debut but Kentucky upset in 2OT loss
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