Fourteen seconds after the opening tip, senior guard Elijah Johnson dished to freshman Ben McLemore, who hit a three pointer to give Kansas an early 3-0 lead against Washington State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic semifinal at Sprint Center in Kansas City.
That’s as close as it ever got all night as Kansas cruised to a 78-41 win.
After losing to Michigan State and a rough win over Chattanooga, KU came out right away and hit eight of their first ten shots, pulling out to a 25-9 lead at the second TV timeout. McLemore was hot right away, scoring all of his 11 points in the first half, including two three pointers and a putback dunk within the first eight minutes. McLemore was only in the game for 24 minutes of the game, earning his rest while the rest of the team continued to execute.
Travis Releford led all Jayhawk scorers with 17 points on 6-7 shooting. Perry Ellis added 12, hitting all eight of his free throws. No other Jayhawk scored in double figures. Johnson and Jeff Withey added eight.
The Jayhawks were able to get out and move the ball around, and until the last five minutes when Bill Self cleared the bench and put in the backups and later the walk-ons, Kansas was shooting near 50% overall and near 40% from beyond the arc. As a team, KU hit 20-22 from the free throw line. As a team through four games, Kansas is shooting 70.8% from the line, slightly ahead of last year’s final number of 69.2.
Washington State threw different looks at KU but none worked. KU shot over the zone and were too athletic for WSU to keep up in man-to-man coverage. KU also outrebounded the Cougars 35-24, getting ten from Kevin Young (who drew the start over Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor) while Withey added eight. Withey also blocked five shots and helped hold WSU leading scorer Brock Motum to 6-18 shooting. Traylor added five points in 15 minutes while guard Naadir Tharpe had four assists in 18 minutes.
This is the sort of game that can help a young team gel and find out how productive they can be as a unit. Self is still sorting out who he wants to be the starter at the four spot. Young will probably get the start again tomorrow but Ellis and Traylor will get their share of minutes. A three-way split might work to keep them all fresh but Ellis and Traylor have more room to grow and probably should be able to overtake Young and move him back into a spot as a role player by the end of the year.
Kansas will play again tomorrow night at Sprint Center, facing Saint Louis who beat Texas A&M 70-49. The Billikens ran away after 21 points from junior forward Dwayne Evans and eight assists from junior guard Jordair Jett. Jett played 38 minutes against the Aggies and six SLU players played more than 20. In contrast, Kansas had three players surpass 20 minutes and none played more than 26. They should be fresh for the 8:30 CST tipoff.