Jeff Withey matched a career high with 25 points, Travis Releford added 23 and No. 12 Kansas held off Saint Louis 73-59 on Tuesday night to win the CBE Classic.
Releford had 21 points in the first half, and Withey had 15 in the second, the inside-outside duo carrying the Jayhawks (4-1) despite every effort by the Billikens (2-2) and senior forward Cody Ellis to get back into the game in the waning minutes of the second half.
The Jayhawks improved to 16-4 all-time at the Sprint Center, the site of this season’s Big 12 tournament, and where they’ll play Oregon State in a nonconference game next week.
Ellis finished with 19 points for the Billikens. Mike McCall Jr. added 13 points, Cory Remekun had 10 points and Dwayne Evans pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Jayhawks got off to the same kind of start they had the previous night, when they buried Washington State under a 21-5 onslaught. Releford keyed it with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Elijah Johnson’s only basket of the first half finished off an opening 14-4 run.
After the Billikens clawed back within four, Releford and Withey combined to score 14 straight points as Kansas established a 28-10 edge and threatened to put the game away.
Saint Louis never wavered, even after Jordair Jett limped to the locker room late in the half.
McCall hit a long 3-pointer late in the half, and another triple by Jake Barnett, one of three he had on the night, helped get the Billikens within 39-25 at the break.
Releford was 6 of 11 from the field in the first half; Saint Louis was 6 of 23.
The Billikens also committed 10 turnovers, but despite their sloppiness on offense and their inability to slow down the Jayhawks on defense, they still were within striking distance.
McCall’s 3-pointer out of halftime closed the gap to 11, but Withey converted a three-point play off a nifty feed from Kevin Young, and McLemore followed up a 3-pointer with a scooping layup, allowing the Jayhawks to restore a 47-30 cushion with about 17 minutes left in the game.
That’s just about when Ellis started to heat up.
His basket with 14:25 left got the Billikens within 50-36, and he converted a three-point play with under 10 to go that made it 57-45. The senior forward from Perth, Australia, then hit back-to-back 3-pointers a couple minutes later to trim the deficit to 10 points.
Kansas kept trying to deliver the knockout blow, and the Billikens kept dodging it.
McCall answered a basket by Releford that threatened to raise the roof at the Sprint Center, which was filled with a pro-Kansas crowd, and then Ellis knocked down another off-balance 3-pointer from the wing to get Saint Louis within 65-56 with just under 4 minutes left in the game.
Withey converted a three-point play, though, and after Ellis misfired from long range, the Jayhawks’ 7-footer dunked at the other end to make it 70-56 and effectively put the game away.