No. 7 Kansas Heats Up Late to Top SE Missouri State, 74-55

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Senior center Jeff Withey chalked up a double-double and a pair of Jayhawk freshmen nearly did the same as Kansas opened the 2012-13 men’s basketball season with a 74-55 victory against Southeast Missouri State inside Allen Fieldhouse Friday night.

In the teams’ first-ever meeting, Kansas (1-0) turned a six-point lead into a 20-point margin in the final 12 minutes to defeat Southeast Missouri State (0-1) in the opening round of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. The victory marked KU’s 40th-straight win in season openers at Allen Fieldhouse.

Withey was one of three Jayhawks in double-figures on Friday, leading the way 17 points and 12 rebounds for his seventh career double-double. He also recorded half of the team’s 10 blocks on the evening. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Ben McLemore was one point shy and fellow rookie Perry Ellis was two rebounds shy of notching double-doubles in their official Jayhawk debuts. McLemore grabbed 12 rebounds and nine points, and Ellis added 15 points and eight rebounds.

Both McLemore and Ellis earned a spot in the starting lineup, marking the first tandem of first-year Kansas players to start in a season-opener since the 1969-70 season when sophomores Bud Stallworth and Aubrey Nash started against Marshall (freshmen were not immediately eligible at entering college at that time).

Sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe tallied a career-high 10 points, including seven in the last six minutes and 20 seconds of the game.

Southeast Missouri was led by senior guard Nick Niemczyk and sophomore forward Nino Jones, who chipped in 14 and 12 points, respectively. KU held the Redhawks to an 18-for-62 night (29 percent), and upped its own shooting percentage to 39 percent (24-for-62) by night’s end.

In the opening minutes, McLemore converted all three free throws after drawing a foul behind the arc and Tharpe followed that with a legitimate three-pointer to shoot Kansas out to an 11-0 lead. On the other end of the floor, the Jayhawk defense would give up just two baskets to the Redhawks until the 11:48 mark and KU climbed ahead, 15-4.

Maintaining the lead was no small feat. Though KU took little time jumping out to a double-digit lead, both teams shot less than 30 percent for the first half, emphasized by KU’s 1-for-14 effort from three-point range.

Regardless of the low-efficiency rate, Withey dunked on an offensive rebound and within a minute, the senior center grabbed another offensive board, converting that one into a layup and doubling up the Redhawks, 28-14.
Ten minutes in, seven Jayhawks had already contributed to the team’s scoring to set a balanced precedent for the evening. Still searching for his first bucket, senior guard Elijah Johnson scored the final four points of the half to send Kansas to the break up, 32-17.

With no players in double figures at the half, Withey led the first 20 minutes with eight points and seven rebounds. Southeast Missouri’s Niemczyk also finished the half with a team-high eight points.

Each team hit their first attempt to start the second half, but again Kansas got out to a 1-for-6 shooting mark as Southeast Missouri cut the Jayhawk lead to 10, 36-26, to force the first Kansas timeout of the night. Out of the first media timeout of the half, Niemczyk connected on a pull-up jumper to cut KU’s lead to single digits with less than 15 minutes to play.

Senior guard Travis Releford got fouled on a dunk much to the delight of the 181st-consecutive sold-out crowd and converted the three-point play. Withey scored next with a dunk of his own, but the Redhawks continued to chip away at the Jayhawk lead. By the second media timeout of the half, Southeast Missouri narrowed its deficit to six, 43-37.

McLemore answered KU’s need for a spark, muscling his way to the basket for a layup to stretch KU’s lead back to 10. With Southeast Missouri State still trailing close behind, he pushed the ball up the floor and dished it off to Releford for a quick transition layup. Ellis helped his fellow rookie, drawing the foul on a made layup and Kansas returned to a double-digit lead for the remainder of the night.

Following his three-point play, Ellis hit another jumper before turning it over to his fellow underclassmen. Seven points from Tharpe sandwiched around baskets from Ellis and McLemore, kicked Kansas out to its largest lead of the night, 68-48, with less than three minutes to play. A late three from freshman guard Andrew White III sealed the 74-55 win.

No. 7 Kansas will play No. 14 Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN. The Jayhawks will return to Allen Fieldhouse to take on Chattanooga on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in the second game of the CBE The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.