A hole in the ozone formed above Lawrence today as the communal sighs of relief from Kansas Jayhawks fans merged and rose through the humid Midwestern atmosphere. KU proved with today’s win over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels that the Jayhawks’ biggest apparent weakness could actually serve as the decisive factor in a tournament win. For a team who still has much to prove, this victory says a lot about what the rest of the tournament may bring.
After an ugly start, the Jayhawks’ size advantage under the basket ultimately gave them the edge. They stood up to an impassioned effort from the Colonels without the injured Joel Embiid. His presence was replaced with a combination of Jamari Traylor, Tarik Black and Perry Ellis. Traylor and Ellis combined for 31 points and 27 rebounds, and kept the Hawks in the game when things looked grim in the first half.
Glenn Cosey started the game shooting 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, which helped to force KU to play from behind for most of the first half. Although the Colonels’ staunch defense forced 13 turnovers in the first half, they failed to capitalize on the offensive end of the court. They shot 32.1 percent from the field in the first half of play, while KU shot 66.6 percent.
The Jayhawks also out-rebounded Eastern Kentucky 15-3 on defense, allowing KU to tie the game before halftime. After pulling themselves together, the Jayhawks never looked back.
It’s easy to forget that this team is still extremely young. Ugly wins like this are vital, and they yield the experience necessary for a deep run in this year’s tournament. If KU succeeds in making this a year that fans remember forever, the Jayhawks will in part have Eastern Kentucky to thank for it.
Considering that the Hawks finished the game without landing a single 3-point shot, fans can reasonably expect to see a better offensive output in their next outing against the Stanford Cardinal on Sunday. This hope, along with two of Embiid’s replacements recording double-doubles in the same game, should bring confidence to the Hawks as they prepare for Round 3.