Wichita — The top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks knew entering their NCAA Tournament opener against Penn that getting past the Ivy League champions would be no easy task.
With senior point guard Devonte’ Graham leading the way, the Jayhawks moved on to the second round of The Madness for the 12th March in a row.
Here are five statistics that fueled the Jayhawks (28-7) against the Quakers.
Penn entered the NCAA Tournament as a team built more on defense than offense. For Kansas it was imperative the Quakers didn’t get hot and gain confidence offensively.
Although the Quakers jumped out to a 21-11 lead early in the first half, the Jayhawks’ defenders settled in and limited Penn to 35.7-percent shooting in the first 20 minutes as the underdogs missed 11 of their final 15 shot attempts leading into the halftime break.
Kansas kept Penn leading scorer Ryan Betley in check (3-for-9 shooting, 8 points) and limited A.J. Brodeur, a 54.2-percent shooter entering the game, to 6-of-16 success from the field.
The Quakers only converted on 39.3 percent of the shot attempts. They were the first KU opponent to shoot under 40 percent since the Jayhawks won at Kansas State (though West Virginia shot exactly 40 percent in the Big 12 title game).
KU’s defense might be trending the right direction ahead of a Saturday matchup with Seton Hall, which scored 94 points against North Carolina State.
Lightfoot’s 2nd half
With Udoka Azubuike limited while recovering from a sprained MCL in his left knee, Kansas needed some interior contributions from either Silvio De Sousa, the unexpected breakout performer of the Big 12 tournament, of sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot.
Against Penn, the slightly more experienced Lightfoot came through after Azubuike played 3 relatively ineffective minutes in the first half.
Before halftime, Lightfoot played 10 minutes. He missed a baseline jumper, grabbed 2 defensive rebounds and blocked a shot.
In the second half, though, Lightfoot gave KU far more, scoring all 9 of his points and, even more importantly, putting in work on the glass, with 2 offensive boards and 7 more rebounds on the defensive end of the floor.
His 11 boards gave the 6-foot-8 fill-in starter a new career high. And Lightfoot played solid defense, finishing with 3 blocked shots.
Vick’s efficient offensive outing
In one of his more effective scoring outings of his junior season, Lagerald Vick only needed 7 shot attempts to provide KU with 14 points.
Vick nailed 2 of his 4 3-point tries and both of his free-throw attempts to help his cause. But he also found low-risk, high-reward looks.
The springy guard got open for one score at the rim in each half and put in another easy basket in the paint.
The productive NCAA Tournament opener gave Vick his fourth consecutive game in double figures for the first time this season. Even when he was routinely hitting the 20-point mark in November and December, Vick never scored 10 or more points in more than three consecutive outings.
His 14 points were the most since he went for 17 in KU’s home win over Oklahoma.
The upperclassmen from Memphis didn’t force many bad shots and Kansas handled a pesky Penn team as a result. Moving forward, Vick can make an even larger imprint on the game with offensive rebounds or an assists — he finished with 0 in both categories.
Points off turnovers
Penn was by no means sloppy with the basketball, committing 11 turnovers, right around its season average. But when the Quakers gave the ball away, the Jayhawks often pounced.
In a 16-point victory, Kansas scored 15 points off Penn’s 11 miscues.
The Jayhawks turned the ball over only 8 times (1 away from their season low) and Penn only forged 4 points off of those slip-ups.
KU’s 11-point advantage in points off turnovers was the most since a plus-17 margin at Iowa State.
A postseason victory on the glass
Benefiting from a more athletic lineup, KU oftentimes looked faster than Penn. But the Jayhawks also utilized their advantage on the glass.
Lightfoot obviously made the biggest impact, with his 11 rebounds, but he got plenty of help as Kansas won the battle of the boards, 41-33. It marked KU’s fifth rebounding victory in the past eight games.
Starting guards Graham and Malik Newman each chipped in 6 rebounds. Freshman Marcus Garrett came in off the bench to add 5 more, and backup big De Sousa delivered 4 rebounds in just 10 minutes.
On 34 misses, Penn only came away with 5 offensive rebounds and 3 second chance points.
Kansas scored 14 points as a result of its 8 offensive boards.
Wichita — In the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament it seemed that not one discussion of Kansas versus Penn could go by without someone referencing the success of the Quakers’ second-ranked 3-point defense.
Penn opponents, anybody who follows either team closely could surely recite, only made 29.2 percent of their shots from behind the arc before Thursday’s first-round game at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Jayhawks didn’t rely upon 3-pointers in defeating Penn, 76-60, but they did prove more effective with their long-range looks than most foes of the Ivy League champs.
In knocking down 7 of 17 from 3-point distance, Kansas (28-7) moved on to the second round having converted more 3s than 17 previous Penn opponents. Only six Quakers foes all season shot more accurately than the Jayhawks (41.2 percent).
KU’s first successful 3 came on its first attempt, off the fingertips of junior Lagerald Vick, less than three minutes in. But seven consecutive Kansas 3-point misses — from Malik Newman, Devonte’ Graham (3), Vick (2) and Svi Mykhailiuk — followed over the course of the next 10-plus minutes, contributing to a 21-11 Penn advantage on the scoreboard.
Nerves might have contributed to the 1-for-8 start, but senior Mykhailiuk credited the Quakers (24-9) for executing their game plan, as well.
“They wanted to run us off the 3-point line, and they did a pretty good job of that today,” Mykhailiuk said after hitting 2 of 3 3-pointers. “Sometimes when Devonte’s going downhill, or Malik or Lagerald or me, they’ve definitely got to help. And then if they help we’re just trying to find the open man.”
Amid KU’s string of misfires, Graham (29 points) told his teammates to keep the 3-pointers coming.
“We can't keep missing,” he figured.
A Mykhailiuk 3-pointer from the right corner 3:51 before halftime, when he baited Caleb Wood into the air and then took a hard step to his left to rise up and fire, seemed to put KU’s shooters back on track. Including that open make, the No. 1 seed made 6 of its final 9 from downtown.
Penn’s relative success in defending the arc came in not allowing KU guards to attempt as many 3-pointers as they’re used to. In Big 12 play, the Jayhawks averaged 9.4 makes a game on 24.7 tries, and hit 38.2 percent.
KU coach Bill Self said his team bailed Penn out early by taking too many contested shots.
“Defensively, they don't pressure, but they make it hard to get all the way to the basket, and then they do do a good job of contesting the 3-point line,” Self said.
Only Mykhailiuk, Graham (3 of 8) and Vick (2 of 4) made 3-pointers against Penn. Newman missed both of his looks. Considering KU entered the tournament with a 40.3 percent 3-point shooting mark and averaging 10.1 makes a game, Quakers coach Steve Donahue actually applauded his players’ perimeter defense in defeat — pointing to the fact KU only led by eight with less than seven minutes to play in a pro-Kansas building.
“Defense was awesome,” Donahue said. “Got them to shoot 18 hard 2s, something we preach. Got seven 3s for a team that makes 10.”
Kansas connected on just 1 of 5 2-point jumpers outside of the paint in each half but found 28 points off layups and dunks in the victory.
“They pack it in so well,” Graham said, “it’s hard to actually get into the paint. And the bigs, they switch up how they guarded off the ball screens, so they keep you thinking and keep you on your toes. We was just trying to keep getting downhill and make plays.”
It took some effort, but the Jayhawks drove with persistence and eventually found the open looks — sometimes inside, sometimes outside — they needed to advance.
KU will face No. 8 seed Seton Hall on Saturday. The Pirates held North Carolina State to 11-for-30 3-point shooting in a 94-83 win. Seton Hall entered the tournament with a 33.4 percent 3-point defense (98th nationally).