Kansas rolls past Tennessee State in season opener

Gary Bedore, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Basketball

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Bill Self was correct to assume his Kansas basketball players would be fired up for Friday night's regular-season opener against Tennessee State.

Self, the Jayhawks' 15th-year coach, who maintained his No. 4-ranked squad "should be jacked and excited" about playing in a real game after an unusually long three-game exhibition season, saw his Kansas team blast the Tigers, 92-56, just four nights before Tuesday's Champions Classic showdown against Kentucky in Chicago.

Big 12 preseason player of the year Devonte Graham, who set the tone in the opening seconds by cashing a 3-pointer and flushing a breakaway dunk off a steal, had a stellar season debut for Kansas.

Graham, a 6-foot-2 Raleigh, N.C., native, scored 10 points and added a career-high 12 assists and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. He was three boards shy of a triple-double.

Graham had 10 points, five assists and four boards the first half in helping KU to a 56-27 halftime lead.

"We had a pretty good shoot-around," Graham said. "We were energetic, and guys were talking, running through the plays, shooting the ball well. I kind of felt that energy, and we came out and played with it.

"You can tell the season's here and every game matters. I'm excited and glad we got the win."

Senior Svi Mykhailiuk, who hit 3 of 16 3s in the preseason, iced 3 of 6 3-pointers and scored 15 points for Kansas. He had 11 points in the first half on 3 of 5 3-point shooting.

Junior Lagerald Vick, who had a vicious left-handed dunk the first half, totaled 23 points, tying a career high.

KU freshman Marcus Garrett, starting in place of highly-acclaimed sophomore Malik Newman (12 points), finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Udoka Azubuike had 13 points and six boards as the Jayhawks made good use of their seven scholarship players plus walk-on Clay Young. Young (three points) hit a free throw after getting body-blocked by Tennessee State's Delano Spencer in the first half and getting awarded two charities from that foul.

Yes, KU had just seven available scholarship players, with freshman forward Billy Preston sitting out the game as punishment for missing curfew on Thursday night and missing class on Friday, according to Self.


KU, which appeared a bit sluggish in leading by just five points at halftime in a victory over Fort Hays State on Tuesday night, hit its first nine shots en route to a 25-7 lead. The team's first miss came off a drive by Newman at 12:36. KU scored on that possession, Garrett depositing a stick-back tip.

Things went so well for KU in the early going that sophomore big man Azubuike was credited with a hoop when Tennessee State's Christian Mekowulu knocked the ball into his own goal with 11:41 left in the first half, KU up 29-9. Azubuike shrugged as he raced back down court, accepting the gift basket.

Mykhailiuk had a highlight reel play the first half, skying to grab a Vick miss on a 3-pointer, and then slamming it home. Mykhailiuk also hit back-to-back 3s giving KU a 49-21 lead at 4:30.

Vick also had an impressive left-handed dunk shortly after the Mykhailiuk slam.

The dazzling plays continued the final half. Vick flipped a lob pass to Azubuike for a slam, followed by a bullet pass from Graham to Mykhailiuk to give KU a 66-28 lead with 16:43 left. Also, Mitch Lightfoot hit a 3 to give KU a 77-44 lead at 7:44. He hit another with 2:15 left to make it 90-53. And Azubuike missed a dunk, only to try a second time and flush it through.

Overall, KU hit 60 percent of its shots and was 12 of 28 on 3-pointers. .

KU will meet Kentucky at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the United Center in Chicago as part of the Champions Classic.

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