Brannen Greene was smiling, recalling a story from the final seconds of Kansas’ 109-72 victory over Northern Colorado in the season opener, an offensive bludgeoning that saw the Jayhawks score more points than they had in nearly eight years.
In the final seconds, Greene said, the KU regulars were laughing and joking on the bench. If senior walk-on Evan Manning made a three-pointer, somebody said, they needed to do “The Dolphin,” a wiggling, celebratory dance that sometimes punctuates victories like these.
“Three seconds later,” said Greene, a junior wing. “He knocked down a three. It was crazy.”
Greene paused. A Kansas media relations staffer was pulling him back to the locker room.
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“Good job, Evan!” Greene shouted, pushing back out toward the hallway that leads to the KU locker room.
This was Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse, a debut performance that couldn’t have gone much better. The Jayhawks drilled 15 three-pointers, one shy of the school record of 16, set against Baylor in 2005. The 109 points were tied for the second-most in the Self era (Kansas scored 113 in a season opener against Longwood in 2010). And the 37-point victory was the program’s biggest since Kansas drilled Texas Tech 79-42 in March 2012 — just weeks before a Final Four run.
Speaking of Final Fours, the performance left Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill recalling an early-season loss against Wichita State in 2012-13, the year the Shockers made their own run to the Final Four. Wichita State made 12 of 14 from three-point range that night, and the final score — 80-54 — was nearly as lopsided
“I remember I told (the Wichita State staff) at the time, if they shoot it like that, I think that’s where they could end up — and they did,” Hill said. “This is a similar deal. With the weapons that they have, the mixture of experienced players and the raw talent that will obviously get better — because they are getting coached by one of the best in the business — it’s a pretty daunting task for anybody.”
Now the Jayhawks prepare for a step up in weight class, with No. 13 Michigan State coming up on Tuesday at the Champions Classic in Chicago. But before moving on to Michigan State, the KU Chalkboard returns for its fourth season. So here it is, your usual postgame fun, the good, the bad (there wasn’t much) and the numbers from a victory over Northern Colorado.
Brannen Greene matched a career-high with five three-pointers on five attempts; he also was five for five in a road victory at Georgetown last season. Here is the moment, though, where Greene says he began to feel it — where he began to realize his stroke was working at full capacity:
Junior guard Frank Mason was pushing the ball in transition and found an open Greene on the left wing. It was still early in the shot clock, but Greene had already made two three-pointers. There was no hesitation.
Greene provided a sizable lift off the bench, but let’s take a moment to recognize sophomore Devonte’ Graham, who showed why Bill Self is determined to start Graham alongside Mason and get back to playing two small guards.
Graham finished with 13 points, eight assists and three steals, and the thievery might have been the most encouraging stat of the night. If you have watched Self’s teams over the last five years, you know that they have trouble coming up with steals. Self’s defenses make opponents miss, and they clean up the glass, and they can break a team’s will. But they don’t actually procure many steals. Enter Graham, who profiles as a guard who can wreak havoc in the passing lanes and can pressure the ball. On Friday, he had one steal in the open court that led to a basket. It’s early, so here’s your #overreaction caveat, but it’s one reason Graham might be the Jayhawks’ most valuable guard behind Mason.
Graham is also realistic. He took a team-high 11 shots on Friday and conceded afterwards that he perhaps got a little carried away early.
“I was feeling myself,” he said, smiling.
1.31 points per possession
We mentioned the 15 three-pointers, but the KU offense also managed to shoot 54 percent inside the three-point line. As a result, the Jayhawks averaged 1.31 points per possession on the night. Last year, Kansas averaged 1.10 points per possession in 36 games.
In the moments after the game, Greene was asked if Kansas was “too athletic” for Northern Colorado. It led to a mildly humorous exchange, with Greene attempting to answer the question honestly, while not offending a team Kansas had just beaten by 37 points.
“Well, yeah,” Greene said, before pausing. “No disrespect. It was Northern Colorado, which they’re a great team. But we should be more athletic than them. We got Michigan State coming up. That will be a real honest test for us going forward.”