In a game full of story lines involving Kansas’ deep contingent of guards, senior standout Devonté Graham stood out from the rest on Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
“He didn’t score the second half and still dominated the game. Lagerald scored the points. Devonté controlled the game,” KU coach Bill Self said after Graham flirted with a triple-double in the Jayhawks’ 92-56 season-opening victory over Tennessee State.
Graham scored 10 points and added a career-high 12 assists and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. He was three boards shy of what would have been his first triple-double. Graham had 10 points, five assists and four boards the first half in helping KU to a dominating 56-27 halftime lead.
“We had a pretty good shoot-around,” said Graham, a 6-foot-2 point guard from Raleigh, N.C. “We were energetic, and guys were talking, running through the plays, shooting the ball well. I kind of felt that energy, and we came out and played with it. You can tell the season’s here, and every game matters. I’m excited and glad we got the win.”
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Vick, a 6-5 junior guard from Memphis, tied a career high with 23 points. Svi Mykhailiuk, a 6-8 senior shooting guard from Ukraine, who went 3 of 16 on three-pointers in the preseason, iced 3 of 6 threes and finished with 15 points overall. He had 11 points in the first half on 3-of-5 three-point shooting.
Then there’s freshman Marcus Garrett, a 6-5 Dallas native who scored 10 points and grabbed 10 boards as a surprise starter. He opened for Malik Newman, who scored 12 points and grabbed four boards in 24 minutes off the bench.
“We didn’t have a very good practice yesterday. We were going to go with a different starting group based on yesterday. It wasn’t really a knock to Malik,” Self said of going with Garrett. “We’ve got to get better defensively.
“Malik should be a starter here, no doubt about that. He may start on Tuesday (against Kentucky at the Champions Classic), no question. I thought it was the right thing to do to make sure he understood he can play better when he’s not shooting the ball. That’s not a knock, just a fact. I thought he played pretty well tonight.”
Of Garrett’s performance, Self said: “The thing about Marcus … he does what he does. He doesn’t have to shoot it (he was 4 of 6 from the field on drives). It would be nice to see a couple go in the hole. To get 10 points, 10 rebounds and have two steals in his first game, I thought that was pretty good. The other thing is he is probably as good a defender as we have, too. He reminds me so much of Travis (Releford) when he first got here.”
Garrett — who had come off the bench in KU’s first three exhibition games — said he found out at practice on Thursday he’d be starting on Friday.
“I was a little nervous at first. Once we started playing I was all right,” Garrett said. “Just being a freshman you don’t expect to start your first game, especially at a high major like Kansas. I feel I’m always ready for the opportunity.”
Sophomore Udoka Azubuike had 13 points and six boards as the Jayhawks made good use of their seven scholarship players plus walk-on Clay Young. Young (three points) hit a free throw after getting body-blocked by Tennessee State’s Delano Spencer in the first half and getting awarded two charities from that foul.
Yes, KU had just seven available scholarship players, with freshman forward Billy Preston sitting out the game as punishment for missing curfew on Thursday night and missing class on Friday (the reason he missed class was to pick up his car that he parked illegally in town) according to Self. Self said it was a one-game suspension and Preston would be available for Tuesday’s Kentucky game.
KU, which had appeared a bit sluggish in leading by just five points at halftime in a victory over Fort Hays State on Tuesday night, hit its first nine shots en route to a 25-7 lead on Friday. The team’s first miss came off a drive by Newman at 12:36. KU scored on that possession, Garrett depositing a stick-back tip.
Things went so well for KU in the early going that sophomore big man Azubuike was credited with a hoop when Tennessee State’s Christian Mekowulu knocked the ball into his own goal with 11:41 left in the first half, KU up 29-9. Azubuike shrugged as he raced back down court, accepting the gift basket.
Mykhailiuk had a highlight-reel play the first half, skying to grab a Vick miss on a three-pointer, and then slamming it home. Mykhailiuk also hit back-to-back threes giving KU a 49-21 lead at 4:30.
Vick also had an impressive left-handed dunk shortly after the Mykhailiuk slam.
The dazzling plays continued the final half. Vick flipped a lob pass to Azubuike for a slam, followed by a bullet pass from Graham to Mykhailiuk to give KU a 66-28 lead with 16:43 left. Also, Mitch Lightfoot hit a three to give KU a 77-44 lead at 7:44. He hit another with 2:15 left to make it 90-53. And Azubuike missed a dunk, only to try a second time and flush it through.
Overall, KU hit 60 percent of its shots and was 12 of 28 on three-pointers.
KU will meet Kentucky at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the United Center in Chicago.
Kansas guard Devonte Graham finished with 10 points and 12 assists in the Jayhawks’ victory over Tennessee State. Next up: Kentucky in the Champions Classic.