By Matt Tait
Kansas University sophomore Perry Ellis continued his push for the most underrated player in the world title, freshman Joel Embiid continued to show why Rick Pitino said he could be the No. 2 overall pick in next June's draft, and the rest of the Jayhawks fell in line right behind them in a hard-fought, but convincing 86-66 victory over Iona at Allen Fieldhouse.
Flashing his wide variety of post moves, Ellis paced the Jayhawks with 13 first-half points and finished the game with 21.
Not to be outdone, Embiid also looked sharp in the post and also flushed home a couple of big-time dunks and grabbed seemingly every rebound he could get his hands on. He finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds on 7-of-7 shooting.
Oh yeah, and then there was Andrew Wiggins' ho-hum night — 13 points and 7 rebounds — a 10:1 assists to turnover ratio from Naadir Tharpe, who added 5 points and 3 rebounds and a 9-point night from Frank Mason that included being on the finishing end of an alley oop pass from Tharpe midway through the second half.
There may have been a few defensive breakdowns throughout this one, but the offensive highlights and KU's explosiveness more than made up for it.
The 2nd-ranked Jayhawks improve to 3-0 with the victory, while Iona falls to 1-2.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: KU opened the second half above the rim. After taking a 41-36 into the locker room after a hard-fought first half, KU flexed its muscles with a couple of monster alley-oops during the opening minutes of the second half and pushed the lead to double digits — 64-54 — by the 10-minute mark. Adding five points to the lead was not, in itself, incredible, but pushing the lead to double figures against a scrappy Iona team had to be a mental blow to the visitors.
• Offensive highlight: Joel Embiid had plenty of pretty moves, particularly in the first half, but none of them got the crowd going the way the Naadir-Tharpe-to-Andrew-Wiggins alley-oop that opened the second half did. After a hard-fought first half, KU led just 41-36. But on the Jayhawks' first possession of the second 20 minutes, Tharpe lofted the ball high to the left corner of the backboard from the right wing and Wiggins flew higher to pick it up and throw it down. Pretty routine by Wiggins' standards, but a spectacle for the rest of us. On the very next possession, Tharpe threw another one, this one right at the rim, and Embiid powered it through the hoop over an opponent. Incredible stretch.
• Defensive highlight: Joel Embiid gave us a serious look at what kind of a defensive force he could be near the 15:20 mark of the second half. As Iona guard Tre Bowman drove deep into the lane to set up the easy drop off pass to big man Daniel Robinson, Embiid slid over to the right side of the lane to cut off the drive. As soon as Gomez dropped the pass off, Embiid slipped back to his man, Robinson, and swatted away a layup attempt.... with authority. I know it looks like it's easy for a man with Embiid's length and size, but what he did on that one possession was as much as some people do during an entire workout.
• Key stat: Field goal percentage. The Jayhawks shot 57 percent and limited the Gaels to just 39, a feat that was made easier by KU's high percentage of dunks and layups.
• Up next: The Jayhawks will continue with their non-conference schedule at 7 p.m. Friday when they face Towson at Allen Fieldhouse.