Freshman guard Wayne Selden, Jr., scored 14 points and sophomore forward Perry Ellis added a game-high 19, including three crucial free throws with under 30 seconds to play, to lead No. 2 Kansas past UTEP, 67-63, and a third-place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis Saturday night.
After Kansas (6-1) pushed its way to a 13-point lead with 1:45 to play, the Miners (4-4) closed the gap to three with six seconds left in the game after McKenzie Moore knocked down three free throws, following a foul by freshman guard Frank Mason. On the ensuing possession, Ellis converted one-of-two free throws to put Kansas up for good.
The Miners were led in scoring by junior guard C.J. Cooper’s 15 points, while senior guard Justin Crosgile added 14 and freshman forward Vince Hunter contributed 10 points to round out the UTEP double-figure scorers.
For Kansas, junior guard Naadir Tharpe added 11 points and four assists to join Ellis and Selden, Jr., in double figures.
Freshman center Joel Embiid provided the spark in the second half that Kansas lacked for much of the first period, doing so mostly on the defensive end. The seven-footer controlled the paint, blocking seven shots, the most by a Jayhawk this season. Embiid also added nine points and six rebounds.
One day after suffering their first loss on the season, the Jayhawks struggled early to score. Neither team scored a basket in the first four minutes of the contest. UTEP, coming off of a lopsided loss to No. 23 Iowa, didn’t convert a basket until 12:48 was left to play in the first half.
Selden got the Jayhawks going early, scoring eight of Kansas’ first 10 points on the evening, behind two three-pointers and a strong drive to the basket. Ellis added two early free throws and Embiid fought off contact for a layup and converted the ensuing foul shot to give Kansas a commanding 15-2 lead.
Aside from the Jayhawks quick 13-point lead, neither team could put together a consistent string of baskets in the first half. After UTEP scored on back-to-back possessions, freshman guard Andrew Wiggins hit his first shot of the day, a three-pointer to push the Kansas lead back to nine, 29-20, with just over two minutes to play in the half. Wiggins followed that with a drive to the basket drawing a foul and making the free throw to push KU’s lead to 12. Those two buckets marked his only points in the contest, but the Canadian stand out contributed seven rebounds.
UTEP would answer with two-straight baskets before Selden slashed for a layup as halftime approached to extend the Kansas lead back to nine at the half. Selden led all first half scorers with 12 points and Wiggins added six for the Jayhawks.
Crosgile led UTEP’s first half scoring effort with six points. Matt Willms added five and Cooper, Moore and Julian Washburn each added four.
The Jayhawks grabbed their first win over UTEP in the teams’ series history. UTEP leads the series 3-1 overall with thee last meeting coming in 1992.
Kansas will hit the road for tough back-to-back road tests when the Jayhawks go on the road to Colorado (Dec. 7) and then to Florida (Dec. 10).