Aggies fall to No. 2 seed Jayhawks in NCAA opener

New Mexico State's Daniel Mullings (23), Remi Barry (3), Tshilidzi Nephawe (15) and DK Eldridge (1) follow the closing seconds against Kansas on Friday in Omaha, Neb. Kansas won 75-56.

Nati Harnik

OMAHA, Neb. — A series of slow starts over the past few months had not prevented New Mexico State from winning 13 straight games and the Western Athletic Conference title.

Another slow start Friday sent the Aggies home.

After spotting second-seeded Kansas an 18-point first-half lead, coach Marvin Menzies’ bunch was unable to play catch-up in their NCAA Tournament opener. Frank Mason III had 17 points and the Jayhawks cruised to a 75-56 victory in the Midwest Region.

"We’re used to that, used to starting a little slow," said Remi Barry, who scored 10 points for the Aggies. "But they were making some tough shots, and we didn’t shoot the ball well."

DK Eldridge added 11 points and Tshilidzi Nephawa also had 10 for the Aggies (23-11), who had won all those games in part by not allowing an opponent to score more than 70 points in its last 24 games.

"We ran into the real Kansas," Menzies said. "I know they sputtered a little bit there toward the later part of the conference, the conference tournament. But I knew Bill (Self) would have his guys ready. I knew they wouldn’t take us for granted."

The Jayhawks (27-8) did their part in setting up a tantalizing matchup with seventh-seeded Wichita State in the round of 32. The Shockers followed their in-state rival to the court for their game against No. 10 seed Indiana on Friday.

"It would be a big game for our state, without question," Self said. "But if it’s Indiana, we get a chance to play one of the most storied programs in the history of our game."

After a stunning day of upsets Thursday, lowlighted by an 0-3 mark from the mighty Big 12, the Jayhawks made sure to rob any drama from its opener at the CenturyLink Center.

Kansas 75, New Mexico State 56

They shot holes in the Aggies’ unorthodox zone, going 9 of 13 from beyond the arc. They turned just about every turnover into a run-out. And they ran ragged New Mexico State’s starters.

In fact, the rim played better defense against Kansas for much of the game.

Perry Ellis missed a dunk in the opening minutes. Mason and Landen Lucas each missed bunnies. Wayne Selden Jr. even got the ball on a fastbreak, elevated high above the rim and then realized he was going to come up short on a dunk, missing a desperation lay-in instead.

Kelly Oubre Jr. clanked a dunk on an alley-oop pass off the iron early in the second half.

All those easy misses didn’t put the Jayhawks in danger, though. All they did was keep New Mexico State from an even more lopsided defeat in its fourth straight NCAA trip.

Cold from beyond the arc late in the season, the Jayhawks heated up in front of a heavy pro-Kansas crowd. Ellis knocked down an early 3, Oubre added another, and Devonte’ Graham hit consecutive 3s that gave the Big 12 regular-season champs a 34-16 lead late in the first half.

""It was very nice to see the ball go in the basket," Mason said. "It gave us confidence as the game went on. We’re happy we knocked down shots."

The Aggies tried to make a run out of the locker room, trimming their deficit to 12 on a few occasions. But after Johnathan Wilkins’s putback with 8 minutes to go made it 55-43, the Jayhawks went on an 11-2 run over the next couple of minutes that pushed the advantage past 20.

Kansas coasted from there to its ninth straight win in an NCAA Tournament opener.

"You look at the stat sheet, you go, `They outplayed us,’" Menzies said. "And they did."

The Aggies had won 13 straight games, the third-best mark in Division I. … The Jayhawks improved to 5-0 in NCAA Tournament games in Omaha. … New Mexico State has lost nine consecutive NCAA Tournament games dating to a win over Nebraska in 1993.

New Mexico State: Menzies remained winless in 17 tries against ranked opponents. … Aggies G Ian Baker was 1 for 10 from the field, 0 for 4 from behind the arc. He finished with four points.

Kansas: Ellis, the Jayhawks’ leading scorer, still appeared hobbled by a sprained right knee. … Kansas won the national title in 2008 and reached the Final Four in 2012, the last two times it opened a tournament in Omaha.

New Mexico State: Season over.

Kansas: No. 7 seed Wichita State or No. 10 seed Indiana.