The Kansas Jayhawks had little trouble with North Dakota State on Thursday night, knocking off the Bison 82-59 to improve to 2-0 to start the season.
And, while it was a group effort that helped push the fifth-ranked Jayhawks to victory, it was the usual suspects who led the offensive charge.
Junior forward Jalen Wilson came up just two points shy of tying his career high, finishing with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting and 3-of-6 from three-point range, tacking on nine rebounds as well. That’s now a 20 points per game average for Wilson between Thursday night and Monday’s season opener.
The longest-tenured Kansas player, Wilson’s strong start has become a guiding light for the youth around him on the roster.
“He’s our leader,” freshman guard Grady Dick said, adding: “That’s the guy we look to when things get tough. We need him to be aggressive and make plays.”
His hot start to the year is grabbing plenty of attention on the opposing sideline, too.
“Wilson, clearly, you can tell, has more of ‘the guy’ mentality,” NDSU coach David Richman said.
Dick had a strong offensive night as well, pouring in 12 points for the game’s second-highest total.
The game started about as well as the Jayhawks could have imagined, putting together a first-half blowout to effectively put the game out of reach by halftime. KU led by 29 at the break after shooting the lights out, knocking down 55.9% (19-of-34) of its shots from the floor and 50% (6-of-12) of its threes.
After starting slowly in their exhibition game against Pittsburg State, the Jayhawks have now gotten out to early game runs in each of their first two regular-season contests.
“I feel like, coming right out of the gate, you want to establish yourself to the opponent,” freshman center Ernest Udeh said.
Richman, from the Bison perspective, was not happy with how his team opened the game against a Kansas program for which he offered boundless praise.
“I thought we were soft, tentative, passive,” Richman said.
Wilson and Dick were joined by freshman guard M.J. Rice as double-figure scorers for Kansas in the win. It was Rice’s season debut after missing the opener due to what he described as a “minor” back issue.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time, so when I finally got the opportunity it was like, ‘wow,'” Rice said.
Six Jayhawks finished with at least six points in the victory, while five had at least eight points. The latter group included Udeh, who went 4-of-5 from the floor, as well as junior guard Joseph Yesufu, who tied the second-most points he’s had in a Kansas uniform with eight.
Kansas finished shooting 48.6% from the floor and 35% from three-point range. North Dakota State made just 36.2% of its shots and 28.1% of its threes.
“That’s a fun group to watch as you’re scouting them, not a very fun group for us to play against tonight,” Richman said.
Next up for the Jayhawks is the Champions Classic and a matchup with the seventh-ranked Duke Blue Devils coming up on Tuesday night in Indianapolis. That will be the second game of the night at this year’s event, with tipoff scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
Click below to hear from acting Kansas head coach Norm Roberts and the Jayhawks after their 82-59 victory over North Dakota State.