Paced by a perfect performance from rookie big man Joel Embiid, No. 2/3 Kansas broke loose from Iona for a 20-point win inside Allen Fieldhouse Tuesday night, 86-66.
Meeting for the first time since 1988, Kansas (3-0) recorded its 65th-consecutive non-conference victory, but had its hands full with an Iona (1-2) squad that had answers for every Jayhawk bucket for the majority of Tuesday night’s contest. For the game’s first 31 minutes, the Gaels kept the Jayhawks within reach. But with nine minutes on the clock, Kansas shut the door. Upping its 65-56 advantage in a hurry, KU put together a 9-0 run over a three-minute window, and wrapped up those nine minutes on a 21-10 run.
Embiid led the charge, chalking up eight points in the first half and eight more in the second on a flawless 7-for-7 night from the floor. The 7-foot center recorded KU’s first double-double of the year with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Sophomore forward Perry Ellis turned in another brilliant effort, posting 20-plus points for the second-straight game. He was nearly as efficient as his post partner, shooting 9-for-11 on his way to a team-high 21 points.
Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe did the majority of the distributing, racking up 10 assists in the win. Freshmen guards Andrew Wiggins and Frank Mason rounded out the Jayhawk leaders with 13 and nine points, respectively.
While Iona won the war from behind the arc, knocking down 10 three-pointers to KU’s four, Kansas more than doubled the Gaels’ effort in the paint, 52-24, to offset. The Jayhawks were also aided by an overpowering 57 percent shooting percentage as a unit (33-for-58).
Sophomore guard A.J. English and Preseason All-MAAC First Team selection Sean Armand led the Iona offense, contributing 21 and 14 points apiece. Their team ended the evening shooting 39 percent (22-for-57).
An overthrown pass followed a three-pointer from Armand prompted a quick timeout from the Kansas bench after falling behind 11-9. Things took another turn when Armand converted a Jayhawk turnover into a three from the top of the key, furthering the KU deficit, 16-11. This time a lineup change, rather than a timeout, ensued. With all but one starter on the bench, Kansas found a spark.
Sophomore forward Jamari Traylor kicked it off with a block on the Gaels’ end of the floor, giving the offense room to close the gap. Squared up in the corner, sophomore Andrew White III nailed a three pointer. The next trip down the floor, Embiid wiggled around the defense for a layup to tie the score, 16-16.
Iona didn’t blink, charging right back with a 5-0 run of its own, including the team’s third three in the first 10 minutes, and KU again lagged behind. Ellis carried the Jayhawks, bringing his first-half point total to nine with a layup that cut the Iona lead to two, 23-21. Two made free throws from Wiggins retied the score with seven minutes remaining in the frame.
While Kansas was shooting at a 57-percent rate by the final media timeout, the Gaels always had a response. When freshman guard Conner Frankamp knocked down a three, Iona’s Armand hit a floater. When Tharpe pulled up for a jumper in the lane, English kept Iona right there with a three. Finally back-to-back hook shots for Embiid opened up a four-point KU lead. Even a slick behind his head layup from Embiid was quickly overshadowed by two more Iona three-pointers.
Looking to finally break away, Ellis and Selden scored the last five points of the half to take a 41-36 edge into halftime.
Armed with a slight lead, Tharpe and the Jayhawks turned up the excitement out of the break, hitting Wiggins and Embiid for alley-oop dunks, to the delight of the sold-out Fieldhouse. Iona was relentless, hitting two more treys to cut the Kansas lead back down to two, but the Jayhawks had found their stride. When Wiggins intercepted an outlet pass and dished it under the basket to Ellis, the sophomore forward completed a textbook up-and-under, pushing KU to its first double-digit lead of the evening, 58-47. This time it was Iona that was forced to blow the whistle.
Matching each other at a 50-percent shooting stride by the second half’s second media timeout, Kansas hung on to a 61-54 lead with 11:22 on the clock. Iona maintained pace with shooting percentage, but couldn’t keep up with the Jayhawks in transition. Embiid threw a perfect outlet to Mason, who found Ellis, who found the basket – and Kansas jumped out to its largest lead of the night, 69-56.
Point guard to point guard, Tharpe found Mason for an alley-oop dunk to mark the beginning of the end for Iona with just over six minutes to play. Kansas went on to outscore the Gaels 21-7 in the final nine minutes until one last three-pointer from the visitors brought the game to its final score, 86-66.
Bill Self Post Game
No. 2/3 Kansas will open the Battle 4 Atlantis when it plays host to Towson on Friday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on Jayhawk TV/ESPN3.