LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Perry Ellis led No. 7 Kansas in scoring Tuesday night. He was second on the team in rebounding, pitched in a couple of assists and didn’t commit a turnover in his college debut.
Just think: Jayhawks coach Bill Self believes the freshman will only get better.
Ellis finished with 15 points and seven boards in the 88-54 exhibition victory over Emporia State, and helped to drive a big first-half run that put the game away early.
“He scores the ball easy,” Self said. “He’s got such a nice touch with the ball. I thought he played well, but I still think he can be a lot more aggressive.”
Yes, Self is always going to find a fault.
“But he could be a really good player early in his career,” he conceded. “He did good.”
So did the rest of the Jayhawks’ newcomers, who will be counted on to fill the shoes left by All-America Thomas Robinson, a first-round NBA draft pick, and Tyshawn Taylor, the senior guard who helped lead Kansas to the brink of a national championship last season.
The Jayhawks lost to Kentucky in the title game in New Orleans.
Elijah Johnson had 12 points against the Hornets, a Division II school from southeastern Kansas. The senior came off the bench because he was “substantially late” for a class, Self said.
Johnson is one of three returning starters and the top returning scorer. Seven-footer Jeff Withey, the Big 12’s defensive player of the year, added seven points and six rebounds, and Travis Releford added seven points and three assists.
This one was all about the freshmen, though.
Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor both made statements in their first taste of playing in Allen Fieldhouse. The duo was part of last year’s freshman class, but was forced to redshirt after they were deemed by the NCAA to be partial qualifiers. They practiced with the team the second semester but were not allowed to suit up until this season.
McLemore took a backdoor feed on the game’s opening possession for an easy dunk. The 6-5 guard then brought a capacity crowd to its feet when he elevated midway through the second half to follow a 3-point miss by Johnson with another rim-rattling jam.
“Coach was telling me I need to crash the boards more often and stuff like that,” McLemore said. “When I had the chance to crash the boards, it came off perfect timing.”
Traylor got off to a slow start and was substituted for by Ellis in the opening minutes. But the T-Rob look-a-like got into the flow later in the half, and his basket off a feed from Releford with 6:11 remaining capped a 22-1 run that gave the Jayhawks a 34-15 lead.
Traylor then showcased his staggering athleticism in the second half when he picked the pocket of Emporia State’s Kaleb Wright and went the other way for a layup and a 51-27 lead.
McLemore finished with 11 points and Traylor had six points, while fellow freshman Andrew White III pitched in 10. Ellis was 5 for 5 from the field.
“They looked like freshmen that could run and jump,” Self said. “They don’t know what they’re doing but they try real hard.”
Indeed, there were certainly plenty of teachable moments for the Jayhawks, the unanimous pick by the Big 12’s coaches to win their ninth consecutive league title.
They committed a rash of turnovers against the undersized Hornets, along with getting beat to several loose balls. Withey never established himself inside despite a massive size advantage, and the Jayhawks struggled when they were forced to run half-court sets.
When they got into the open court, well, they looked just as dominant as usual.
“They’re just so unselfish with the ball,” Emporia State coach Shaun Vandiver said. “It’s not about the me, it’s about the we, and they’re very dangerous and very deserving of their ranking.”
Gavin Brown had 14 points to lead the Hornets, who lost 60-49 to Tulsa in their exhibition opener Tuesday night. Wright had five points on 2-of-13 shooting.
The Jayhawks play their final exhibition game Monday night against Washburn. The Hornets wrap up their exhibition schedule Sunday at Kansas State.
“I thought we played about like I thought we’d play,” Self said. “We did a few good things.”