Toledo sophomore point guard Justin Roberts, son of Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts, has seen Devonté Graham score bundles of points on many different occasions.
“We’ve played pick-up before. I knew he was a capable shooter and player. I knew he can do it any time. It’s unfortunate it happened today,” Roberts said after watching KU senior guard Graham erupt for a career-high 35 points in the Jayhawks’ 96-58 victory over Toledo of the Mid-American Conference on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Graham — who entered as KU’s fifth-leading scorer at 12.0 points a game — scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the first half as the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (6-0) grabbed a 59-30 halftime lead over the Rockets (3-3).
For the game, he hit 14 of 19 shots and was 5 of 8 on three-pointers after entering Tuesday’s game as a 28.6-percent three-point shooter. Graham also dished out five assists, with no turnovers, and had five rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes. His five threes were one off a career-best mark.
Graham came close to the most points in a game by a KU player in the 15-year Bill Self era. Andrew Wiggins scored 41 against West Virginia on March 8, 2014, in Morgantown, W.Va. Elijah Johnson had 39 at Iowa State in 2013, and Ben McLemore scored 36 against West Virginia in 2013.
“He shot it, handled it, did what he wanted off ball screens,” Self said. “Defensively he was great. We put him on No. 4 (Tre’Shaun Fletcher, who scored 12 points) because I didn’t think Lagerald (Vick) was doing a great job on him to start. Devonté defended him well a vast majority of the first half until we put Marcus (Garrett) on him.
“Yeah Devonté played great. He shot it well. He’s played well all year. He just hadn’t seen the ball go in the hole. I’m glad that happened for him tonight.”
Graham — whose season high had been 17 points against Texas Southern, and his previous career high 27 points against West Virginia and Oklahoma in his sophomore campaign — led an offensive attack that accounted for 24 baskets in 32 attempts in the first half (39 of 66, .591 for the game) for an amazing 75 percent mark.
KU hit 9 of 11 threes in the first half for 81.8 percent. The Jayhawks finished 12 of 20 on three-pointers. Toledo hit 40 percent of its shots, was 12 of 29 from three and had 20 turnovers to KU’s nine.
“Just coming out being aggressive,” Graham said of the reason for his offensive explosion. “I told Malik (Newman, 17 points) at half my shot was feeling good. I kept attacking off the pick-and-roll trying to get in the paint. My guys did a good job finding me for open threes.
“It did feel good in warmups,” he added of his shot. “I’ve been putting up shots every night. Coach T (Kurtis Townsend) has been on me about holding my follow-through. Listening to him and getting in the gym, I felt good.”
Svi Mykhailiuk (15 points, 5 of 6 threes) hit four threes in five tries in the first half, good for 12 points. Newman had nine points in the initial half on 4-of-5 shooting. Center Udoka Azubuike had 12 points and five rebounds.
Toledo was 7 of 12 on threes in the first half, but scored just 30 points and lagged 59-30 at halftime.
Justin Roberts, who is the all-time leading scorer at Lawrence High, made his first start of the season and second of his career. He scored four points with two assists in 16 minutes. He had one assist in nine minutes in the first half. Nate Navigato added 12 points for Toledo.
“It was everything I thought it’d be,” Roberts said of playing at Allen Fieldhouse, where he said he’s worked out more than a thousand times. “I didn’t expect to get a standing ovation (which he did) when they called my name (in introductions). That was great.”
Dad Norm after the game told Justin: “He said he was proud of me, loved me, to keep playing and finish the year positively,” Justin said.
KU used a 30-2 run to stretch a narrow 18-15 lead at 12:11 to 48-17. Graham had 12 points, Mykhailiuk nine, Newman five and Azubuike four in the surge. The Jayhawks led 7-0 out of the gate, but Toledo tied it at 9-9 at 14:19, the game staying close until that 30-2 run.
Opponents in the HoopHall Miami Invitational have not provided much of a test for KU, that’s for sure.
The Jayhawks followed blowout wins over Texas Southern (114-71) and Oakland (102-59) with the Toledo rout. The Toledo game was the final game before KU’s signature game of the event — Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game against Syracuse at American Airlines Arena in Miami.
Kansas coach Self had some news of sorts to report after the game. He said there’s nothing new on the status of Billy Preston, who missed his sixth game of the season as KU looks into the financial picture involving the car he’s been driving on campus. However, Self noted KU football tight end James Sosinski practiced with the basketball team one day this week, and will practice the rest of the week to see if he can help the squad. He could be a practice player or actually join the team at some point to dress for games.
“He’s not on the team (at this point). I told him we’d try him out for a week, see if he can become a practice player,” Self said of Sosinski, a 6-7, 260 sophomore out of Chandler, Ariz., who played for South Mountain Community College last season, averaging 19.1 points and 12.6 rebounds as a freshman.