INDIANAPOLIS — Northern Kentucky is in its fifth season in Division I, and it made the NCAA Tournament in the first year it was eligible to do so.
Then it faced an opponent in the first round with a tad more experience in these matters, and the outcome was predictable. Kentucky defeated the intra-state upstart, 79-70, Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Wildcats will face Wichita State in a second-round game here on Sunday in a rematch of their exciting second-round game in 2014, which Kentucky won, 78-76, against a then-undefeated Shockers team that included future Knicks Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker.
No. 15 seed Northern Kentucky (24-11) gave No. 2 Kentucky (30-5) a battle in the first half, trailing only 23-21 at one point. But freshman De’Aaron Fox scored six points in a row to start a 13-0 run, and suddenly it was 36-21.
It was 38-24 at halftime, at which time Kentucky was shooting 48.6 percent from the field to the Norse’s 24.3.
Second-chance points were 6-0. Fast-break points were 8-0. Bench points were 6-0. You get the idea.
There was some drama late in the second half, when Northern Kentucky trimmed what had been an 18-point deficit to seven, but it was unable to get closer than that.
Fox scored 19 points to lead Kentucky. Bam Adebayo had 15 points and 18 rebounds and Isaiah Briscoe scored 17 points. Northern Kentucky got 22 points from Lavone Holland and 21 from Carson Williams.
Afterward, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he was unconcerned about his team’s uneven performance. He mostly was concerned with the fact that the game ended at 12:30 a.m., and urged reporters to limit questions for him and his players.
“College kids shouldn’t be playing at 12:30, and the old man that’s coaching their team has to watch tapes tonight,” he said. “We shouldn’t be playing this late.”