ST. LOUIS — Andrew Wiggins scored 19 points, Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis had double-doubles and second-seeded Kansas pulled away down the stretch to beat pesky Eastern Kentucky 80-69 on Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Traylor finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, and Ellis had 14 points and 13 boards for the Jayhawks (25-9), who trailed 56-53 with 9 minutes to go before their game-ending charge.
They advanced to play No. 10 seed Stanford, a 58-53 winner over seventh-seeded New Mexico on Friday, in the third round of the South Regional on Sunday.
Glenn Cosey hit five 3-pointers and had 17 points for the 15th-seeded Colonels (24-10), the Ohio Valley Conference champions. Tarius Johnson and Eric Stutz finished with 15 points apiece.
For most of the game, it appeared as if the Colonels just might follow in the footsteps of Mercer, North Dakota State and the rest of the scrappy underdogs who have contributed to the madness of March. They led for all but 1:49 of the first half, and turned back the Jayhawks’ first big charge of the second half, before finally wilting down the stretch.
They simply couldn’t contend with the size of Kansas, which had a 43-19 rebounding advantage that translated into a 54-20 edge on points in the paint.
Of course, it took the Jayhawks a half to figure all that out.
Like a swarm of gnats, the smaller guards of Eastern Kentucky made life miserable for the turnover-prone Jayhawks in the first 20 minutes. Kansas had more turnovers (10) by the midway point than field goal attempts (9), and at one juncture turned it over on six of eight possessions.
Most of those miscues turned into easy points at the other end.
The Colonels, buoyed by their trademark 3-point shooting, raced out to a 23-14 lead, silencing a heavily pro-Jayhawks crowd and even making some fans out of New Mexico and Stanford folks.
It wasn’t until the first of two rim-rattling dunks by Wiggins off alley-oop passes in the first half that Kansas showed some life. The second came during an 8-0 flurry that gave the Big 12 champions a 28-27 lead with just over a minute to play, their first since the opening minute of the game.
The Jayhawks have grown accustomed to tussles with lower seeds. Just last year, they trailed No. 16 seed Western Kentucky at halftime before pulling away down the stretch.
It looked like Kansas would pull away again Friday, scoring on its first seven trips down court and building a 45-38 lead. But rather than continue to pound away inside, where the Jayhawks were having so much success, they reverted to missing jump shots. The Colonels took advantage with a 10-0 run, forcing Kansas coach Bill Self to call a timeout or risk pulling out his hair.
He must have reminded his teams in the huddle that jumpers weren’t working.
Kansas went back inside out of the timeout, dumping the ball to a big man or driving to the basket. The Jayhawks regained the lead at 59-56 on Wayne Selden’s free throw and Traylor’s putback dunk, and then kept turning back every 3-pointer that Eastern Kentucky managed to rattle home.
When the final seconds ticked away, Self slowly walked to the scorer’s table and shook hands with Eastern Kentucky counterpart Jeff Neubauer. The first words he said were, “Great game.”