Oscar Tshiebwe proved to be one of the very few bright spots for No. 2-seeded Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Indianapolis.
The junior forward notched 30 points and pulled down 16 rebounds — both game highs — in the stunning 85-79 overtime loss to St. Peter’s, the East Region’s No. 15 seed. The rest of the Wildcats’ starters managed only 32 points combined.
Kentucky entered the game as an 18.5-point favorite over the Peacocks from Jersey City, New Jersey. But the Wildcats left the court as only the 10th No. 2 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to lose to a No. 15 seed.
Tshiebwe was in tears on the court after the game.
“It is sad because I’ve been wanting this moment for a long time,” Tshiebwe said in the postgame press conference. “I’m a junior and this is three years in college and this is my first March Madness.”
But earlier on Thursday, he was in a much better mood. He received word that he had been named a consensus first-team All-American.
It’s official: Oscar Tshiebwe is a consensus First-Team All-American
He’s the first Kentucky player to earn that distinction since Tyler Ulis in 2016 & the 21st Wildcat in program history.
In the Cal era, it’s now: Wall, Davis, Cauley-Stein, Ulis and Tshiebwe pic.twitter.com/6i2Y6uIkBr
— Maggie Davis (@MaggieDavisTV) March 17, 2022
The 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe was Kentucky’s anchor throughout the season, averaging 15.1 rebounds per game to lead the country (in second place was Fardwas Aimaq from Utah Valley at only 13.6). During Thursday’s loss, Tshiebwe set the modern-day single-season rebounding record with 515.
In his first year eligible to play with the Wildcats after transferring from West Virginia, Tshiebwe also led the team this season with averages of 17.4 points (while shooting 60.6 percent), 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. The SEC Player of the Year is also a frontrunner for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and National Player of the Year; those awards will be announced on April 3 during the Final Four.
A native of Lubumbasi, Congo, Tshiebwe was also asked after Thursday’s game about whether he’d go pro. He said he hadn’t made any decisions yet but needed to talk with head coach John Calipari and others.
Earlier in the week leading up to the matchup with St. Peter’s, Tshiebwe was featured in an article by the Associated Press describing his bully-ball personality on the court and his affable and engaging personality off it.
“Sometimes I just can’t believe what I’m doing because I never had a dream of doing everything I’m doing right now,” Tshiebwe told the AP. “I think God is helping me and I’m so grateful for everything.”
Tshiebwe is the son of a pastor and recalls fondly a childhood spent in church. Now in the United States and with an ever-growing public presence, Tshiebwe has remained outspoken about his faith.
Start your day with God and invite him in your day🙏🏽♥️ pic.twitter.com/eOROCtyrT5
— Big O (@Oscartshiebwe34) January 27, 2022
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— Broadway Baptist Church (@BroadwayLex) February 28, 2022
“We don’t need to fight for eternal life with God. It is a free gift from Christ. We already believe,” Tshiebwe shared during that sermon. “Lots of people say you have to do this or you have to do this to enter the Kingdom of God — no. We just need to believe and trust in God. We have to surrender ourselves to God. We have to obey His Word.”
Now, after Thursday’s demoralizing loss, Tshiebwe will rely on his faith as he prayerfully evaluates his basketball future.
“I truly believe in God,” Tshiebwe said a year ago, “and God makes most of the decisions for my life because I pray for it and I listen to what God is telling me to do, and I make my decision.”
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