Big 12 gets on track as No. 2 seed Kansas routs New Mexico State
The last few weeks have been an exercise in patience for Kansas. Shots haven't been falling, the offense hasn't looked good. The game has been a struggle.
All of that changed against New Mexico State.
Frank Mason III scored 17 points to lead a balanced attack, and the second-seeded Jayhawks rolled to a 75-56 victory over the No. 15 seed Aggies on Friday, giving their beleaguered Big 12 its first NCAA tournament victory in four tries this March.
"It was nice to see the lid come off the basket," said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team had twice failed to hit a single 3-pointer in games during the last few weeks of the season.
Perry Ellis added nine points for the Jayhawks (27-8), who are headed for a tantalizing matchup with seventh-seeded Wichita State in the Midwest Region's Round of 32 on Sunday.
The schools, separated by a couple hours of highway, have not played since 1993 because of the Jayhawks' stubborn refusal to schedule the Shockers. But they can't avoid the game now after Fred VanVleet led Wichita State to an 81-76 victory over No. 10 seed Indiana.
"It would be a big game for our state," Self said, "without question."
DK Eldridge had 11 points and Remi Barry and Tshilidzi Nephawa scored 10 each for the Aggies (23-11), who had swept the Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
"We ran into the real Kansas," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "I know they sputtered a little bit there toward the later part of the conference, the conference tournament. But I knew Bill would have his guys ready. I knew they wouldn't take us for granted."
Especially after a stunning day of upsets Thursday, including an 0-3 mark from the Big 12.
Kansas made sure to rob any drama from its opener at the CenturyLink Center, though. It shot holes in the Aggies' unorthodox zone, going 9 of 13 from behind the arc. It turned just about every turnover into a run-out. And the Jayhawks ran ragged New Mexico State's veteran starters, who had not allowed an opponent to score 70-plus points in their last 24 games.
"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."
In fact, the rim played better defense against Kansas for much of the game.
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 3's that gave the Big 12 regular-season champs a 34-16 lead late in the first half.
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 eight 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.
"We just couldn't catch up," Barry said.
Kansas coasted from there to its ninth straight win in an NCAA tournament opener, and set up a game that many fans from the Sunflower State have been craving for years.
"We're going to play a really good team that's very capable of having great success in the tournament," Self said, "very capable of beating us."
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 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.