The road to a Big 12 championship for Kansas basketball began free of any speed bumps.
The literal road, that is.
The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks romped Iowa State 79-53 on Wednesday night in Ames, Iowa, earning a breezy victory in their Big 12 road opener at one of the league’s toughest venues. KU entered having lost three of five at Hilton Coliseum, including a 77-60 outcome in a conference road opener last year that initiated what ended up being a 3-6 mark in Big 12 tilts away from home.
KU encountered no such problems in Wednesday’s affair.
Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson scored a game-high 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting, one of four KU players in double figures. Ochai Agbaji went 4 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 16 points, with David McCormack (16 points) and Udoka Azubuike (10 points) rounding out the top performers for Bill Self, who earned the largest margin of victory at Hilton Coliseum in his 17-year tenure as Jayhawk head coach.
“This was the only time that I can ever remember, and maybe it’s happened before, where we left out of here where we weren’t sweating ’til the last second, or maybe they were celebrating with four minutes left,” Self said. “... We’ll continue to have great games with them. Today wasn’t a true indication of Iowa State or how hard it is to play here.”
These Jayhawks (12-2, 2-0 Big 12) proved impervious to “Hilton Magic” from the outset, roaring to a 20-point halftime advantage.
KU never trailed in the first period but led by just two, 25-23, with just under seven minutes before the break. But the visitors reeled off a 21-3 run, with contributors dotted up and down the lineup.
Dotson started the fun with a free-throw make at the 6:57 mark. Azubuike followed with a put-back bucket, Christian Braun and Dotson hit 3s to push the lead to nine, and Azubuike converted a layup through contact and subsequent free-throw attempt to make the stretch 12-0 in favor of the Jayhawks.
Zion Griffin ended that rally and an 0-for-6 team stretch from 3-point range with a trey, but KU was unfazed. The freshman guard Braun — playing for Marcus Garrett, who left midway through the first half with a right ankle injury — hit another 3, McCormack connected on a short jumper, and after Garrett returned and pick-pocketed ISU superstar Tyrese Haliburton, Dotson converted another free-throw attempt to stretch the lead to 17.
The senior center Azubuike, a 35.2% free-throw shooter this season, hit three free throws in the period’s final minute to give KU its staggering 46-26 halftime lead. The Cyclones (7-7, 0-2) in the first half missed nine of their final 10 field goal attempts, were out-rebounded 21-10 and saw their Big 12 player of the year contender Haliburton held scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting with three turnovers. KU, meanwhile, hit 5 of its 7 tries from 3.
“I thought our guys did great,” Self said in a postgame radio interview. “I didn’t think we guarded early and they made shots, we made shots — H-O-R-S-E contest. ... After about that 10-minute mark of the first half I thought we guarded ’em and did a good job locking ’em up.”
Prentiss Nixon mercifully ended the stretch for the Cyclones out of the locker room with a jumper, but the Jayhawks weren’t done piling on. Dotson’s fastbreak layup capped a 9-for-9 team shooting stretch for KU and created a 52-30 lead with 17:32 remaining, an advantage no amount of supposed sorcery could overcome.
The Jayhawks saved two of their most jaw-dropping highlights for the game’s final five minutes. On back-to-back possessions, McCormack’s one-handed put-back dunk on a Dotson missed 3 and Silvio De Sousa’s own flush on a Dotson lob pass created a 74-45 lead for KU, further silencing a once-capacity crowd. KU finished the evening 28 of 54 from the floor for a 51.9% shooting clip.
Haliburton, who entered averaging 17.7 points, finished with five points on 2-for-7 shooting for the Cyclones, who got a team-high 12 points from Rasir Bolton. ISU finished 8 of 28 from 3-point range versus a 10 of 19 showing from deep for KU, which also got nine points from Braun on 3-for-4 shooting from 3.
“Yeah, I thought we did well,” Self said. “We extended some energy, I’m not going to say we didn’t, but we got a chance for everybody to play. And then we’ve got a quick turnaround Saturday, so that was probably positive.”
KU continues its Big 12 slate with arguably the most important matchup to date, a noon Saturday tilt with No. 4 Baylor in Lawrence. The Bears, who are riding an 11-game winning streak, are 0-17 all time at Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’ll be the best (matchup) we’ve had all year to date, without question,” Self said. “I thought West Virginia game we were turned up pretty good, the crowd, but this will be a different level. Baylor, I mean, they’re legitimate. They guard — really guard.”