The Kansas Jayhawks opened their four-game European tour on Tuesday afternoon with a 79-76 victory over a Swiss national team in Fribourg, Switzerland. The performance came after a hectic couple of days — including some flight delays and sightseeing — but the Jayhawks’ mix of youth and experience pulled together and held on in the final minutes.
Senior center Jeff Withey finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes, while senior forward Kevin Young had nine points and eight rebounds on four-of-six shooting.
“It was a long day,” KU coach Bill Self told reporters after the game.
The Swiss missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime. Moments earlier, sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe had made two free throws with 13 seconds left, pushing the lead to six. But a desperation three-pointer from the Swiss cut the lead in half before a KU turnover gave Switzerland an opportunity to tie with 1.6 seconds left.
After the game, Self sarcastically remarked that KU was perhaps on pace to set an international scoring record after just one quarter. The Jayhawks led 10-8 after the first 10 minutes, and both teams were struggling to score.
“We were awful,” Self said.
But playing with slightly different international rules — a 24-second shot clock and wider lane — the Jayhawks were able to maintain a small lead for most of the first half before the Swiss pulled even at 30-30 before the break.
The Jayhawks finally found a rhythm in the third quarter, outscoring the Swiss 27-19 and widening the lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We actually went through a stretch where we played probably above average,” Self said. “The third quarter we were pretty good, and the first part of the fourth quarter we were pretty good. And then we were bad down the stretch.”
The result, of course, was mostly secondary on Tuesday. This was a game to throw the Jayhawks’ eight scholarship freshmen into the fire. And one freshman, redshirt guard Ben McLemore, joined four seniors (Withey, Young and guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford) in the starting lineup.
McLemore had a mostly forgettable performance, finishing with just two points while missing all six of his shots from the floor. But freshman forward Zach Peters finished with seven points and four rebounds in 12 minutes, drawing post-game praise from Self.
“I thought Zach Peters was probably the second best big man in the game for us behind Jeff,” Self said, “and he was part of the stretch where we played well.”
Self also mentioned walk-on freshman guard Evan Manning, who played five minutes off the bench, and Tharpe as players who played well during spurts.
Some other notable performances: Freshman forward Perry Ellis was the first player off the bench and finished with eight points and four rebounds in 12 minutes. And freshman guard Andrew White had 10 points while knocking down two three-pointers.
There were some other negatives on the stat sheet as well — specifically 28 turnovers. But those turnovers were mostly nullified by the Jayhawks’ 59-30 advantage on the boards.
The exhibition tour continues with a rematch against the Swiss at 10 a.m. (Central time) on Wednesday. The Jayhawks will then head to Paris, where they’ll take on AMW Team France on Saturday and Sunday.
For now, it’s safe to say that it will take more than a few games in Europe for the freshman to blend in seamlessly. But this, at least, was a start.
“We got good chemistry on and off the court,” Withey said. “We just gotta get used to each other. And that takes time.”