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Kansas Jayhawks survive scare from East Tennessee State

Senior center Udoka Azubuike was determined to keep the Kansas Jayhawks ahead in the second half on Tuesday night when they faced a challenge from the East Tennessee State Buccaneers. While the rest of the team sputtered for long stretches in the period, Azubuike found a late rhythm and helped keep the Jayhawks afloat.

A strong first half overall, Azubuike’s dominance down low and a late offensive surge pushed Kansas to a 75-63 victory.

That win improves KU’s record to 3-1 on the season.

Azubuike got off to a red-hot start on Tuesday, making all five of his field goal attempts in the first half. Dating back to Friday’s win over Monmouth, that gave him a streak of 10 straight makes. Even with a couple snags in the second half he still showed off his fearsome presence inside, accounting for 11 of KU’s 14 points during a stretch of nearly eight minutes midway through the second half.

ETSU coach Steve Forbes spoke highly of Azubuike’s game, specifically the size mismatch he presents. He referred to the seven-foot center as “another planet” on the court, and said the only consistently effective way to defend him is to constantly foul him.

Buccaneers senior guard Tray Boyd III also became the second player this year to jokingly ask what KU is feeding Azubuike to give him such imposing size.

“I promise you, we fouled him three times and he just dunked us into the basket and they didn’t call it,” Forbes said.

Azubuike benefited from ETSU’s decision not to double team him throughout the game. Kansas coach Bill Self said earlier this week that the Jayhawks expected ETSU to not deviate from their standard man-to-man defense, something Azubuike said after the game was exciting for him.

“He was great,” junior guard Marcus Garrett said in regard to Azubuike. “You see what happens when you don’t double him.”

It wasn’t just the senior center’s performance that put distance between the fourth-ranked team in the country and a top-tier mid-major this week. A strong start by the Jayhawks was singled out by both Self and Forbes as one of the key differences in the game.

“I thought we played a really good team,” Self said. “I thought that was the best ten minutes of basketball we’ve played this year to start the game.”

At the 7:39 mark of the first half, Kansas had its biggest lead of the night at 18 points. Forbes said despite an overall good effort from the Buccaneers, that early deficit was too much for them to overcome.

“I thought the first punch they gave us really put us down,” Forbes said. “Once we finally put some score pressure on them, we had a chance to win the game.”

To Self’s point about playing a good team, he didn’t reserve those comments for the media scrum after the game. He also spoke with a couple of Buccaneers on the court right after the final horn and offered words of praise and encouragement.

“He was saying we’re a good team,” Boyd said. “Credit to them, they’re the No. 4 team in the nation for a reason. We didn’t back down.”

Sophomore guard Devon Dotson led the Jayhawks in scoring in the first half and finished with the second most points on the team with 19. Forbes praised his skill in transition, which Dotson showed off throughout the night.

The Jayhawks had an efficient day from the floor overall, making 55.6% (30-of-54) of their field goals, including a 29-of-40 effort on two-point shots. That also means, however, that they went just 1-of-14 from three-point range.

Self said that while that won’t happen often this season, Kansas is going to be an up-and-down shooting team all year.

Defensively, though, KU did an effective job shutting down ETSU’s scoring ability. Entering the game only one rotation player for the Buccaneers was shooting below 50% for the season. ETSU made just 38.3% of its shot in Tuesday’s loss.

Just like they were against Duke, turnovers were an issue again for Kansas as well. The Jayhawks committed 15 of them, nine of which came in the second half. Self was critical of that part of the KU effort after the game, despite a generally positive reaction to the win.

Kansas will be on the road for the next couple weeks, with no home games between now and Dec. 7, when Colorado will come to Allen Fieldhouse. First up, though, is a trip to Maui for this year’s Maui Invitational. The first round will tip off on Monday, Nov. 25 when the Jayhawks play the Chaminade Silver Swords.

Click below to hear what Bill Self and the Jayhawks had to say after winning 75-63 over East Tennessee State.

Bill Self

Devon Dotson, Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett


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