Jayhawks Blast New Mexico State to Win Tournament Opener

“We ran into the real Kansas Jayhawks tonight.” – Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State head coach.

Kansas came out in the first round and took care of business. For the first time in years, KU fans were able to watch a first round NCAA Tournament game stress free. After watching both Iowa State and Baylor fall victim to first round upsets, the Jayhawks came out with energy and didn’t overlook their opponent. In the end, it was a nice blowout win that featured the return of the deep ball for Kansas.

People were concerned about how the early 11:15 am start time would effect the Jayhawks, but they responded with a resounding statement. KU jumped ahead early and never trailed, opening a 15-7 early lead before New Mexico State burned a timeout. The Jayhawks nailed three of their first four three-pointers, which ultimately helped them open up as big as a 18-point lead right before halftime. The Aggies ended the half on a 7-2 run, but Kansas had done enough earlier on to take a 13-point lead into the locker room.

But seriously, about that problem of KU coming out slow in tournament openers:

2010: #1 Kansas vs. #16 Lehigh – led 35-29 at half.

2011: #1 Kansas vs. #16 Boston University – led 33-29 at the half.

2012: #2 Kansas vs. #15 Detroit – led 34-24 at the half.

2013: #1 Kansas vs. #16 Western Kentucky – trailed 31-30 at the half.

2014: #2 Kansas vs. #15 Eastern Kentucky – tied 32-32 at the half.

In its last five games against either #15 or #16 seeds, the Jayhawks averaged just a four-point halftime advantage. It was terrific to see them step on their opponent’s throat early on for a change. Friday’s 13-point halftime advantage is the biggest lead through 20 minutes that the Jayhawks have had in a tournament opener since 2008. In addition, the Jayhawks impressively didn’t let the lead fall to single digits at any point in the second half, easing some of the pain from a blown 17-point lead in last week’s Big 12 Tournament Finals loss to Iowa State.

The question going into the game was how Kansas would handle the size of New Mexico State, with the Aggies being taller at four of the five positions. KU responded by winning the battle on the boards, 36-29. What’s even more impressive is that the Jayhawks out-rebounded the Aggies despite just two boards from Perry Ellis, the team’s leader in the category. Kansas’ tallest and shortest players, Landen Lucas and Frank Mason, tied for the team lead with nine boards apiece, and Jamari Traylor contributed an five additional rebounds.

The return of the three-point shot for Kansas was big in this game. The Jayhawks came out of their dry spell by hitting 9/13 from behind the arc. After that brutal six-game stretch from February 23-March 13 when Kansas was 13/70 (18%), KU has now hit 51% (14/27) from deep in its last two contests. While expecting a team to maintain a 50% rate on three-point shots is unrealistic, if the Jayhawks can continue to hit threes at about 40% or so, it’ll be a huge asset to help this team make a deep run.

Frank Mason was fantastic in the game, finishing with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 2 turnovers. He made six of his seven shots, including both of his twos. Guard play can carry a team far in the tournament, and if Mason plays anywhere near how he did this game, the Jayhawks have a great chance of advancing. Devonte Graham also played well, adding eight points with four assists in 25 minutes. On Inside the Paint, it was talked about that we can expect the two point guard set featuring both Mason and Graham to be more prominent in the tournament, and if the first game is any indication, that’s exactly what’s going to take place.

Both point guards made a huge impact on the game, especially with their penetration. They cut through the defense and helped Brannen Greene get open and find his stroke again. The result was something Kansas fans had been hoping for – Greene hit two three pointers. Greene hadn’t hit multiple threes in a game since February 10th. After looking like he was in his own head during the first half, Greene was able to relax. It made a world of difference.

Kansas won the second half by a score of 39-33, and the key stat was the three-point rate. The Jayhawks sank four of their six deep shots, crushing any New Mexico State run before it could really get started. The game never got closer than 11 points at any point in the second half, and the lead grew all the way up to 23 when Devonte Graham hit two free throws to make it 70-47.

The final result was a 75-56 blowout win for the Jayhawks. After a brutal Thursday, the Big 12 finally got a team in the win column, and who better to do that than the team that has been at the top for 11 straight years?

 

The Jayhawks handled what many thought was one of the strongest 15 seeds ever, and they handled it well. Bill Self seemed to have his players ready for everything the Aggies threw at them. He coached a terrific game, attacking the Aggies’ zone with lobs and three-pointers. When New Mexico State changed their set into a full-court press, Self responded by inserting two point guards into the game to dramatically increase ball protection. For a team that has had so many problems throughout the year, they may be hitting their stride at the perfect time.

 

NOTES:

  • Mason: 17 points on 6-7 shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
  • Ellis: 9 points, 2 rebounds and a block.
  • Oubre: 8 points, 2-3 from three and 3 rebounds.
  • Greene: 8 points, 2-4 shooting from three. He was in his own head all first half, but finally broke through in the second half by burying two deep threes.
  • Traylor: 8 points, 5 rebounds and a block.
  • Graham: 8 points and 4 assists.
  • Jayhawks: 9-13 shooting from three. That is 69%.
  • 69% is the best three-point percentage for KU in a single game since November of 1996. In November of 1996, Frank Mason was two years old. Our three-point woes are gone!
  • …Maybe.
  • Kansas shot the ball really well in all phases of the game. It shot 54% from the floor, 69% from three, and 80% from the free throw line.
  • Meanwhile, the defense was fantastic, holding the Aggies to 36% from the field, 33% from deep, and a shaky 69% from the foul stripe.
  • The Big 12 had a much better Friday, going 3-1 with wins from Kansas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. Through one round, the conference’s record remains uninspiring though, at 3-4.
  • Conner Frankamp sighting at the game! He was wearing a white Wichita State T-Shirt.
  • Speaking of Wichita State, you may have heard that they’re going to play Kansas on Sunday in a game that has a moderate amount of anticipation building.

TWEETS:

Next up: NCAA Tournament: Round of 32 on Sunday against Wichita State. You may have heard that there’s some tension between the teams.

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Dylan King

Staff writer for Rock Chalk Blog. http://twitter.com/_DK22