Kansas’ basketball players saw no reason to dispute the obvious after their 89-75 loss to Auburn in Saturday’s second-round NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional contest at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The No. 4 seed Jayhawks, who trailed by 26 points at halftime — KU’s biggest halftime deficit in postseason history — were basically run out of the gym by the No. 5 seed Tigers of the SEC.
“(It was a) beatdown, really,” KU freshman guard Quentin Grimes said after scoring 15 points with two assists against four turnovers in what may have been his last game as a Jayhawk. He, Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson said they weren’t thinking about their future plans right now, while Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa declined to speak to reporters after the game about whether they will turn pro or return to KU.
“How fast they played … I’ve never seen a team that played that fast. They hit shots, got long rebounds. It seemed like all their guys were in the right spots at the right time the whole game. It seems like whenever any team plays Kansas, they play their best basketball,” Grimes said. “We’ve got to know we’re getting everybody’s Super Bowl. We didn’t come out with the mindset to start the game that they did.”
The aggressive Tigers (28-9), who advanced to Friday’s Sweet 16 contest against either North Carolina or Washington at the Sprint Center, raced to a 19-point lead, 34-15, in just 11 minutes. And a 20-point lead, 40-20, 13 1/2 minutes into the game. And a 21-point advantage, 44-23, with 3:58 left in the half. And yes, a 26-point lead at halftime, 51-25, after making 9 of 17 threes.
By the time it was over, KU had suffered the program’s fourth-worst NCAA Tournament margin of defeat. The worst was an 18-point defeat to Indiana in the 1940 NCAA title game.
“We got punched in the mouth,” said reserve forward K.J. Lawson. He had four rebounds and two points in 14 minutes. “They came out making shots. I feel we let them live on the three-point line.
“Also … they were getting back and making transition buckets. We left key players open. We knew Brown was a good shooter. We left him open.”
Guard Bryce Brown scored 25 points on 9 of 13 shooting, including 7 of 11 from three. Auburn, which hit 52.5 percent of its shots, canned 13 of 30 threes to KU’s 6 of 19 and scored 32 fast-break points to KU’s 10.
“We let them play to their strength. I guess you can say they were faster, they were beating us down court and knocking down shots,” K.J. Lawson said.
The Jayhawks did outscore the Tigers 50-38 in the second half, but couldn’t get the deficit below 17 until the final moments.
“They made every shot — nine threes the first half,” forward Dedric Lawson said after scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. “We had a lot of fight in this game. We wanted to keep playing until the end.
“I knew they’d come out hot. I thought we’d respond better. I give our guys credit for playing better the second half.”
Junior forward Mitch Lightfoot, who had no points and two rebounds in 10 minutes, said: “No excuses. I love these guys to death … (this) sucks.”
KU coach Bill Self, who called a couple of early timeouts, said, “Obviously, we’re disappointed in how we played. But also how we played shouldn’t take away from how great Auburn played. They were fantastic. We hadn’t seen an onslaught like that all year in the first 10 minutes of the game. And they rattled us and we didn’t respond very well.
“I’m proud of our kids. We hung in there second half and didn’t get a lot of stops. We did play better the second half. We just didn’t have enough ammunition to fight off what they threw at us early.”
Jared Harper scored 18 points, Chuma Okeke 12 and Anfernee McLemore 11 to go with Brown’s 25 for the Tigers. Point guard Devon Dotson scored 13 points and forward David McCormack had 11 points with six rebounds for KU. Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett, who was playing despite being ill, had seven points and three boards in 20 minutes.
“The thing about it is, it’s been a challenging year,” Self said. KU finished 26-10. “I thought the kids hung in there and did a great job for the most part. Their attitudes and everything were terrific. And we didn’t muster up enough momentum like some past teams have to probably go on a run like other teams have.
“But being a 4 seed in the tournament, and so much of the tournament is matchups, as much as anything. And I got to be honest with you, when I saw Auburn as the 5 in our bracket, I’m going, ‘I just watched them play and they’re fast and those are the teams we obviously struggle the most against.’”
KU is 0-2 all-time against Auburn. The Jayhawks also lost, 66-64, on March 16, 1985 in a second-round NCAA Southeast Regional game in South Bend, Ind. That was Danny Manning’s freshman year at KU. … KU was 6-2 in neutral-site games this season … Kansas is 2,274-859 all-time. … Bill Self is 473-106 in 16 seasons at KU and 680-211 in his 26th season overall. … KU is 108-47 all-time in tourney games with 31 Sweet 16 appearances and 15 trips to the Final Four. Kansas is 38-15 in the NCAA Tournament in the 16-year Bill Self era with 10 Sweet 16s, eight Elite Eights, three Final Fours, one NCAA title and one NCAA runner-up finish. … The Jayhawks are 8-5 all-time as a No. 4 seed. … Auburn has won 10 straight games. Last loss was 80-53 to Kentucky on Feb. 23 in Lexington, Ky. … Bruce Pearl is 98-71 in five seasons at Auburn. … Auburn is 17-16 vs. the current members of the Big 12. … Auburn is 54-17 over the past two seasons including a 24-12 record in the SEC. …