SALT LAKE CITY — The Kansas Jayhawks are heading to the second round of the NCAA tournament after blowing out the Northeastern Huskies 87-53 on Sunday. It was a holistically dominant game for the Jayhawks; they made over half their shots with four players scoring in double digits while also defending as well as they have at any point this season.
By pulling off the win Kansas has now won its opening-round game 13 years in a row.
“I thought our guys were as locked in as they have been in a long time,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “After about the 10-minute mark in the first half, I thought we executed on both ends really well.”
Junior forward Dedric Lawson, who posed a skill and size mismatch advantage for KU, bounced back from a strugglesome Big 12 Tournament title game with a nearly unstoppable performance on Thursday. He was able to take advantage of a weak Northeastern defense both inside and outside.
Lawson finished the game with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting with 11 rebounds, good for his 21st double-double of the year. He also went 3-of-5 from three, which was more makes from deep than any Northeastern player had.
“Dedric is a hard match-up for folks. If you play small like they did, you have a guard guarding him. And if you play big, he can play away from the basket some,” Self said. ” … We tried to make it a conscious effort to throw it inside to him. We didn’t do it enough. When we did, it certainly helped our cause quite a bit.”
Dedric wasn’t the only Lawson who played a major role in the win, as sophomore guard K.J. scored his second highest point total of the season with 13. He scored 15 against West Virginia on Feb. 16. He also saw the floor longer than he has in all but one game this year, playing 23 minutes in the victory.
“I think I had a solid performance,” K.J. said. “And once we settled in everybody was in attack mode and everybody had a great solid performance today.”
The top threat that Northeastern brings to the table is three-point shooting, as the Huskies were a top-15 team in the nation this season in three-point percentage. They fell behind early, however, because they couldn’t find the distance. They shot under 30 percent from three in the first half.
Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett played a big role in limiting Northeastern’s scoring, as he was often matched up on its leading scorer, Vasa Pusica. Garrett and the Jayhawks limited Pusica to three points on 1-of-8 shooting in the first half.
“[Pusica] missed some shots that he normally makes, so that’s not really defense,” Self said. “Our game plan was to hard hedge him, make him change direction and certainly go over every ball screen and every dribble handoff, and the switching helped us do that.”
Along with the solid defense, Garrett finished with six points and four rebounds.
The most drama by the end of the game surrounded freshman guard Devon Dotson, who came up gingerly on his left ankle after a missed layup. He went to the bench at the next dead ball, but returned shortly thereafter with seemingly no ill effects. Just two possessions after returning, he showed explosion going to the basket and finished at the rim.
Dotson went for 18 points in the victory.
Overall, the Jayhawks shot 55.7 percent from the floor, 36.4 percent from three-point range and went 11-of-12 from the free throw line.
Northeastern, which made nearly 39 percent of its threes this year up until the tournament, shot just 21.4% from deep in the losing effort. Jordan Roland led the Huskies in scoring with 12 points, while Pusica scored seven.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the day everyone associated with Northeastern was hoping for or envisioned,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “But you have to give credit to an outstanding Kansas program. They played really, really well today. I think they took us out of our own identity.”
Next up for the Jayhawks is a matchup with the five-seed Auburn Tigers on Saturday. Auburn held on to defeat 12-seed New Mexico State in the first game of the day on Thursday. In the Tigers, the Jayhawks will be facing a kind of team they have seen plenty of times this season: an athletic group that shoots the three constantly.
“They shoot the ball really well,” junior forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “They have great guards, great bigs, they rebound the ball well … so we have to go out there, listen to our scouting report and figure out how we’re going to guard them.”
Click below to hear what the Jayhawks had to say after their first-round win: