Kansas Jayhawks blow by Howard Bison 96-68 in NCAA tournament opener

DES MOINES, IOWA — The Kansas Jayhawks are moving on to the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for the 16th time in a row after cruising past the Howard Bison on Thursday 96-68.

KU, the top seed in the tournament’s West region, is also now 16-0 all time against No. 16 seeds.

While the final score was lopsided in favor of the Jayhawks, the Bison gave KU all it could handle in the early portion of the game. Howard was one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams this year, ranking 23rd in the country, and it shot nearly 56% from the floor overall through the third media timeout of the first half.

Freshman guard Gradey Dick, playing his first NCAA tournament game for the team he grew up cheering for, knew that Howard’s hot shooting would be its biggest asset.

“We just knew they were going to come out blazing, and hats off to them,” Dick said.

From that timeout forward, though, Kansas wrapped up its feeling-out period and started to take control. The Bison took a one-point lead with 6:10 to play in the half, followed by a basket by Jayhawks senior guard Kevin McCullar just 15 seconds later to reclaim the lead for good.

Starting with the McCullar bucket, Kansas outscored Howard 65-36 to end the game.

“Give them a lot of credit, Howard has a good team,” KU acting head coach Norm Roberts said. “They played faster than even we thought they would.”

Dick led the way for Kansas in the win, posting the first double-double of his career with 19 points and 11 rebounds. It was an efficient scoring output, too, as he went 7-of-13 from the floor and 3-of-5 from three-point range.

“It’s special,” Dick said, “it’s obviously my first one so it means something.”

The Bison tried to limit Dick’s effectiveness by face guarding one of the Big 12’s best freshmen, but Dick admitted that by doing that he had more opportunities to rebound, which in turn became became more offensive scoring opportunities.

Sophomore guard K.J. Adams added that the way Big 12 opponents defended the Jayhawks throughout the year prepared him for Howard’s strategy.

“The Big 12 really prepared us for moments like this and games like this,” Adams said.

Adams complemented Dick’s 19 points with 13 of his own on a day when all five KU starters reached double figures. Junior forward Jalen Wilson led all scorers with 20 points, while junior guard Dajuan Harris had 11 and McCullar added 10.

McCullar made his return in the win after missing the Jayhawks’ Big 12 Tournament championship game loss to the Texas Longhorns, a game in which Kansas struggled to defend for a full 40 minutes.

His performance, and overall impact on KU, was lauded by his teammates and coach.

“Kevin plays to win, he does all the little things,” Roberts said. “He makes winning plays all the time, and it’s not always making a basket.”

KU finished the game shooting 52.1% from the floor and nearly 41% from three-point range. It also held Howard to just 38.8% shooting and 31.3% from deep.

“I think when you play a team like Kansas they capitalize on all of our mistakes,” Howard junior forward Steve Settle said. “We left a lot of meat on the bone in the first half, gave up a lot of free throws, second-chance points, and you can’t give that up to a team like that.”

Howard made almost 42% of its shots in the first half but tapered off severely after the break, shooting just 36.1% and making only 5-of-20 threes in the second half.

“I feel like we had to adapt to the game and really just try to run them off the perimeter and I feel like we did a better job throughout the game,” Dick said.

Freshman forward Shy Odom led the Bison in scoring with 15 points in the losing effort.

The Jayhawks will be back in action on Saturday against either the Arkansas Razorbacks or Illinois Fighting Illini, who are facing off as off press time. It’s also unknown yet whether or not Kansas coach Bill Self will be available for that game. Self hasn’t coached since a heart procedure last week, and he told KU radio color commentator Greg Gurley before Thursday’s game that he’s not ready to return yet.

The tip time for KU’s pending second-round game hasn’t been released yet.