The Day After: An Eastern Kentucky scare
The Kansas University basketball team survived an opening-round NCAA Tournament scare on Friday afternoon in the form of an 80-69 victory over 15th-seeded Eastern Kentucky at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
In all actuality, that final score should probably read a little closer, as this one had the feel of a one- or two-possession game most of the night. That's when KU wasn't digging itself out of a hole that suddenly got very deep thanks to some hot EKU shooting and 13 first-half turnovers by the Jayhawks.
In the end, KU's depth, size and a man named Andrew Wiggins proved to enough to advance to the next round. Freshman guard Conner Frankamp, a man who many people thought would and should red-shirt the season — remember that? — bailed the Jayhawks out with steady point guard play, which set the stage for the Jayhawks' big men to dominate when it counted most.
Here's a quick look back at Friday before we start to look ahead to Sunday, when KU will take on 10th-seeded Stanford with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
Two things were abundantly clear during Friday's 80-69 survival victory over Eastern Kentucky: When the Jayhawks played with great energy, passion and even a hint of desperation, they were damn good. When they got lazy, sluggish and content, they paid for it. The recipe for the rest of this postseason run — however deep it winds up being — sure would seem simple, then, and it might have a lot to more playing time for a couple of KU's less heralded players. Jamari Traylor and Conner Frankamp were sensational in this one. Had either player failed to show up the way he did, the Jayhawks might have gone home. But that's one of the luxuries you have when you're a team with quality depth like Kansas. And, boy did it come up big when Bill Self and company needed it most.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Despite coughing it up 13 times in the first half and looking generally careless with the basketball while digging a nine-point deficit, the Jayhawks tightened things up at halftime and finished with just one turnover in the game's final 25 minutes. EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said after the game that the more teams played EKU this season, the more comfortable they got against their aggressive pressure defense. That certainly was true for KU, albeit in the same game, and, most importantly, should really make the Jayhawks appreciate facing Stanford on Sunday, which does not play the same kind of nasty defense.
2 – Tarik Black did exactly what the Jayhawks needed him to do. Possibly overlooked because of the huge games from Jamari Traylor (17 points, 14 rebounds), Conner Frankamp (10 points, 4 assists) and another big, if not quiet, scoring night from Andrew Wiggins (19), Black's contributions, particularly early, helped KU hang around and really set the tone for KU's dominance up front. Black finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks while shooting 6-of-6 from the floor. Four of his six field goals were no-doubt dunks (KU had 11 of them in all) and his blocks were critical in establishing KU's edge in the paint, where the Jayhawks outrebounded the Colonels 43-19.
3 – For the most part, the game went exactly the way the Colonels would have wanted it to go if they could have scripted it themselves, yet KU still won. EKU opened the game on fire, forced a bunch of careless turnovers by Kansas and built a nine-point lead and had the building behind them. But Kansas was patient and seemed to know — or at least believe — that it's advantage inside would ultimately win out. It takes toughness and pride to play through such a poor start and although there were plenty of times where KU was terrible during this one, they fought through a rough night and still won by double figures. Sloppy or not, that's impressive.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – It could go down as a reason to smile (I guess) but it's still really weird to me that KU won this game without making a three-pointer. The Jayhawks were 0-for-7 from three-point land, with Wayne Selden and Frankamp missing twice and Ellis, Wiggins and Tharpe missing their only attempts. The 0-for-7 night snapped a streak of 36 games in which the Jayhawks had made at least one three-pointer. The last time it happened? In the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament against Western Kentucky when KU misfired on all six three-point attempts.
2 – KU's starting backcourt had a pretty off night. Not only did Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden combine for just six points on 2 of 8 field goal attempts, but the Jayhawks actually looked like a much better team when these guys were on the bench. Selden salvaged his night with some nice assists and strong drives to the rim late in the second half and Tharpe hit a big jumper in the second half, as well. But both lacked energy, intensity and passion in the first half and KU is going to need both guys to start their next game the way they finished this one if it hopes to advance.
3 – KU missed too many free throws. For the game, the Jayhawks connected on 16 of 24 free-throw tries, good for 67 percent. At this time of year, those free points are absolute must-haves and on Friday four different Jayhawks missed twice from the charity stripe.
One thought for the road:
KU's hard-fought NCAA Tournament victory on Friday:
• Improved Kansas to 25-9 on the season, giving KU 25 victories for the ninth-straight season.
• Handed KU its 29th NCAA Tournament first-game win in the last 31 years, dating back to 1978.
• Made Kansas 11-8 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games, 6-2 on neutral floors).
· Changed the Kansas-Eastern Kentucky series to 2-0 in favor of Kansas.
· Made the Jayhawks 96-41 all-time in NCAA Tournament games and 8-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in St. Louis.
· Bettered KU’s record to 19-5 as a No. 2 seed and made the Jayhawks 6-0 against No. 15 seeds.
· Upped head coach Bill Self’s record to 325-68 while at Kansas and 532-173 overall. Self is now 36-14 all-time in the NCAA Tournament (26-9 at Kansas).
· Moved Kansas to 2,126-821 all-time.
With their victory today over Eastern Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the second-seeded Jayhawks (25-9) will face No. 10 seed Stanford (22-12) at 11:15 a.m. Sunday.