A foul call is what finally provided the spark No. 5/6 Kansas needed to defeat Louisiana at Monroe, 80-63, and collect win No. 700 in Allen Fieldhouse Friday night.
After a four-win season a year ago, ULM (0-1) was uninterested in rolling over against Kansas (1-0). The Jayhawks held a double-digit lead only twice in the opening frame and finally cracked the 20-point barrier with 4:40 left on the clock.
Leading 47-41 with fifteen minutes to play, freshman guard Frank Mason was whistled for one of 58 combined fouls on the night while hustling after a rebound. Still waiting for a big basket, a game-opening run or an alley-oop dunk, the sold-out Allen Fieldhouse crowd had yet to witness any of the sort in the season opener. So when Mason was whistled for the foul while sprinting after a loose ball, the crowd used it – roaring the Jayhawks back to life.
The Kansas offense showed its appreciation with back-to-back buckets for its first double-digit lead of the second half. Up 51-41, KU saw its lead sink back to a single-digit number only once more before closing the door on the Jayhawks’ 41st-consecutive season-opening victory.
Freshman guard Andrew Wiggins was the first Jayhawk to double-digit points on Friday – and the only one until sophomore guard Andrew White III joined him with just over nine minutes to play. Wiggins led the offense with 16 points, while White and sophomore forward Perry Ellis each scored 12. Freshman center Joel Embiid was right behind them with nine points. Ellis led all players with eight rebounds and two blocks.
In the role of starting point guard as junior guard Naadir Tharpe was off limits for the first game, Mason registered a team-high five assists and no turnovers. Helping out, fellow rookie guard Wayne Selden, Jr., dished out four assists to go with his eight points.
After leading all scorers in the first half with 12 points, junior forward Marvin Williams went on to lead all players with 19 before becoming one of two Warhawks to foul out. Senior guard Amos Olatayo chipped in 11 points as ULM finished the evening shooting 43 percent compared to KU’s 54 percent efficiency.
The Warhawks made it known early that they would make the night a tough one, taking a one-point lead five-and-a-half minutes into the game. Although White nailed a three-pointer in response, ULM countered with back-to-back fast break points to prompt a timeout from the Kansas bench.
Pausing game action only paused the teams’ trend of trading baskets. White hit another three, doing his part to be the spark, but again the Warhawks had an answer. Midway through the opening half, the Jayhawks had managed a meager two-point advantage, 23-21.
Kansas had seen enough – or so it seemed. Ellis kicked off an 8-0 scoring rally with a layup, quickly followed by a three from Selden and long jumper from fellow rookie guard Brannen Greene. In less than two minutes, the Jayhawks turned their lead into double digits, 31-21. Finding different avenues to the bucket, however, the Warhawks were determined to keep the Jayhawks from running the table. By the final media timeout, Kansas was hitting over 60 percent of its shots, but held on to just a 34-30 edge.
With less than three minutes till halftime, the Jayhawks took its second shot at distancing themselves. An offensive rebound from sophomore forward Jamari Traylor resulted in a three-point play, while Wiggins chalked up three points the traditional way. His first trey as a Jayhawk opened up the second double-digit lead of the night. Ellis put in both free throws in the waning moments to push KU to its biggest lead of the half, 42-30. ULM’s Olatayo cut to the basket for one more layup, sending the Warhawks to halftime trailing by 10.
Unwilling to surrender, the Warhawks knocked down the first five points of the second half, sharply cutting into their deficit, 42-37. In need of a big bucket, Wiggins came through with a crucial three-pointer to prevent the lead from weakening any further.
Mason’s foul was called less than two minutes later.
The Jayhawks responded with three-straight makes, capped by White’s third three of the night to surge ahead, 56-43. When freshman guard Conner Frankamp swiped an inbounds pass from ULM’s DeMondre Harvey and immediately converted it to a layup, Kansas fans had the big play the had been waiting for. Armed with a 62-46 lead with nine minutes to go, Kansas never looked back.
Now gripping the momentum, the Jayhawks started listing reasons to cheer. A free throw from Mason pushed the Jayhawks to its first – and only – 20-point lead of the night. The Warhawks cut it down to as little as 12, but a breakaway dunk from Wiggins and a late three from Frankamp closed the door, 80-63.
No. 5/6 Kansas will play No. 4/4 Duke at the United Center in Chicago as part of the State Farm Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 12. Tip-off is approximately 8:30 p.m. (Central), or 30 minutes following the Michigan State-Kentucky contest (6:30 p.m.), and can be seen on ESPN.