DES MOINES, Iowa — Defending national champion Kansas shifted into high gear in the second half to smother Howard, 96-68, in the NCAA Tournament first-round matchup on Thursday afternoon.
All-American Jalen Wilson collected 20 points and seven rebounds, freshman Gradey Dick had 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals and the top-seeded Jayhawks (28-7) had five players with 10 or more points in the West Region matchup.
The Jayhawks advanced to play eighth seed Arkansas on Saturday. Arkansas eliminated ninth seed Illinois 73-63 on Thursday.
“Howard has a good team, they’re good, they can shoot, they have length. They played faster than I think even we thought they would,” KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said. “In that second half, there wasn’t a foul called for about five minutes and it was up and down, and our guys were begging to come out, and I think their guys were just as tired.”
Dick whipped a skip pass from the left wing to the opposite corner for Wilson’s 3 with 3:28 remaining to kick-start the KU celebration with the Jayhawks up 89-63.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year Shy Odom had 15 points and eight rebounds for the 16th-seeded Bison (22-13), who went 5 of 20 from 3-point range in the second half.
Despite head coach Bill Self missing his fourth consecutive game since undergoing a heart procedure last week, the Jayhawks won their opening NCAA Tournament game for the 16th consecutive season.
KU claimed control in the second half with a focused effort on pounding the ball inside and capitalizing on Howard’s lack of size. The Jayhawks scored 54 points in the paint and tallied 20 second-chance points thanks to 15 offensive rebounds.
Dajuan Harris’ uncontested lefty layup gave Kansas a 21-point advantage with 9:40 left, catching Howard flat-footed for the first time in the game. The Bison went 1 of 6 with four turnovers during a three-minute stretch capped by Dick’s follow-up slam.
Howard didn’t flinch in the opening 12 minutes against Kansas. The Bison weren’t bashful about punching back even with three underclassmen in the starting lineup.
Howard led 32-31 at the six-minute mark in the first half with Wilson on the bench, but Kansas went to the halftime locker room with a 50-37 edge thanks to 23 combined points from Wilson and Dick.
–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media