LAWRENCE, Kan. — In exclamation-mark fashion, freshman center Joel Embiid slammed a pass from Andrew Wiggins through the basket for a two-handed dunk in the final minutes of Kansas’ convincing 97-57 win over Pittsburg State in the first exhibition matchup of the 2013-14 season inside historic Allen Fieldhouse Tuesday night.
The unofficial outcome that comes with exhibition play did nothing to tamper with the excitement of seeing KU’s second-ranked recruiting class on the court for the first time. Senior Tarik Black and freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden, Jr., each made the starting lineup, joined by veteran junior guard Naadir Tharpe and sophomore forward Perry Ellis.
Ironically, the loudest play of the night didn’t result in points for the country’s No. 1 recruit – but rather an assist. Wiggins’ dime pass hit Embiid in perfect stride, allowing him to slam the ball through the hoop much to the delight of the 16,300 fans who made it out to the informal season opener.
Although his first touch resulted in a turnover and he hit his first shot at the 9:36 mark in the first half, Wiggins’ night took a sharp turn upward as his 16 points tied Ellis for the team lead. His teammates made sure he wasn’t the center of attention as four different Jayhawks chalked up double figures in the win. The duo was was joined on the leaderboard by sophomore guard Andrew White III (12) and freshman guard Brannen Greene (10), who each came in off the bench.
Black topped the rebounding effort with 11 as Kansas doubled up the visiting Gorillas on the boards, 51-26. Tharpe, meanwhile, had more assists (9) on his own than the opposing total (6). The Jayhawks finished 35-of-65 (53.8 percent) from the floor, while holding the Gorillas to 17-of-54 (31.5 percent) shooting.
For Pittsburg State, junior guard Devon Branch led all scorers with 27 points, while junior forward Alex Williams added 15 points.
Two fouls apiece before the first media timeout sidelined Black and Selden for a chunk of the first half. White was the first off the bench and the country’s best incoming center, Embiid, followed suit to relieve Black. Those fouls kept the Gorillas in it early. While Kansas held Pitt State without a field goal for nearly six minutes to open the game, the Gorillas benefitted from free throws. Two from junior forward Alex Williams saw Pitt State cut what once was a 9-3 lead to a mere two points. An up-and-under layup from Trevor Gregory tied the score, 11-11.
With the newcomers on display, the veteran Jayhawks stepped up. White drove the lane for a layup and Ellis knocked down his third and fourth buckets of the game to try and put distance between the home and visiting teams – but it wasn’t happening. A three from the corner by PSU guard Josiah Gustafson sliced the Jayhawk lead to a single point, 21-20.
Fittingly, Wiggins’ first basket of the night kicked off an 8-0 Jayhawk run, allowing the first sizable lead of the night. Four points from redshirt freshman Landen Lucas and a bucket from Ellis propelled Kansas to a 29-20 advantage in less than two minutes. Greene chimed in with his first of three three-pointers and sent KU to the final media timeout leading, 39-28. Tharpe and White broke loose for 10 combined points and when halftime arrived, Kansas had quickly switched to blowout mode, 50-32.
KU’s mounting offense paused for a defensive stand to start the second half. By the first media timeout, both teams had scored only once, but KU’s defense around the basket started to pick up – led by Black. The senior transfer disrupted multiple shots to open the second frame, recording a block in the process. His offensive rebounding was equally impressive, pulling down back-to-back offensive boards and converting them to layups around the 15-minute mark. His effort helped Kansas clamp down on a 27-2 edge in second-chance points.
With that, the scoring was underway. Black’s put-backs lifted KU’s lead over the 20-point plateau and another three from White saw the Jayhawk advantage surge to 25 with 13 minutes still remaining.
Churning out points with more than a 50-percent accuracy, Kansas was rolling. Greene nailed two-straight three pointers and slash layup by freshman guard Frank Mason pushed the lead past the 30-point mark, 77-46, with eight minutes on the clock.
Wiggins and Ellis teamed up for a 12-2 run headed into the final media timeout and Black’s free throw directly out of the break pushed Kansas close in on the century mark. Embiid’s crowd-roaring slam all but finished up the 97-57 win.
No. 6 Kansas will continue exhibition play when it hosts Fort Hays State on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. inside Allen Fieldhouse.