Through the first 28 minutes of the game, you’d be surprised that the 2012 Final Four Kansas Jayhawks were on the court against Southeast Missouri State on Friday. In their first regular season game post-Thomas Robinson, KU led by just six with the score at 43-37 with 11:43 to go in the second half.
Nothing looked right on offense for the Jayhawks, especially from outside. Despite shooting 38.7% from the field (and a miserable 2-21 from three point range), they held out to pull away with a 31-18 run in the final 11:43 for the 74-55 win.
While they couldn’t hit from the field, they were solid from the free throw line, hitting 24 of 28 shots. Jeff Withey hit 7 of 10 en route to a team-leading 17 points. That’s the main offensive positive, though. It’s good to get a win, and an ugly win at that, but as the Jayhawks head towards a Tuesday matchup with Michigan State, they’ll have to be better on offense. The shots weren’t falling, but the team also looked tentative and weren’t active without the ball throughout the matchup with the Redhawks.
This is probably going to be a theme early on in the year, as the Jayhawks form their identity. Gone are Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor from last year’s team and Withey and Elijah Johnson join Travis Releford as the leaders of this crew. As they acclimate to the increased roles, they’ll also have to gel with a group of freshmen who look to get a lot of minutes. Perry Ellis looked smooth and scored 15 with eight rebounds and Ben McLemore had some good plays (including a follow up dunk and a nice dish to Withey), Jamari Traylor played 16 minutes. The key off the bench was Naadir Tharpe, who had to step up with Johnson in foul trouble much of the game.
When KU was able to drive, they had success and that should be their focus next time out. If they settle for jump shots and three pointers, it could be a long night and they’ll need help from their defense.
Despite the shooting troubles, KU played tough defense on the Redhawks, holding them to 29% shooting on the night. They won the battle of the boards 46-32 and had ten blocks.
That defensive intensity will be vital on Tuesday night as they take on the Spartans, who had shooting troubles of their own in their loss against UConn hitting 37.5% from the field and just 4-17 from beyond the arc. The Jayhawks and Spartans match up in Atlanta at the State Farm Champions Classic at 6 p.m. Central time on ESPN.