University of Kansas

Kansas beats UC Santa Barbara 69-59

Kansas forward Perry Ellis, right, goes to the floor with UC Santa Barbara guard Gabe Vincent (2) during the first half of Friday’s game in Lawrence.
Kansas forward Perry Ellis, right, goes to the floor with UC Santa Barbara guard Gabe Vincent (2) during the first half of Friday’s game in Lawrence. Associated Press

LAWRENCE — They began setting foot on campus five months ago, one by one, the latest crop of heralded Kansas freshmen. They were McDonald’s All-Americans and blue-chippers, future pros and intriguing international prospects.

There was also a late bloomer from Raleigh, N.C., a point guard who spent last year at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Devonte’ Graham did not arrive with the hype of Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre; he did not possess the mystery that accompanied Ukrainian native Svi Myhailiuk.

But on Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse, as the Kansas Jayhawks opened the season against UC Santa Barbara in front of the usual juiced-up crowd of 16,300, Graham was something else entirely. For long stretches of a choppy and awkward opener, Graham was simply the Jayhawks’ best player, lifting No. 5 Kansas to a 69-59 victory on college basketball’s opening night.

“He’s the best player in the game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

Graham finished with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. But it was the poise and comfort with he played that stood out. When sophomore guard Frank Mason picked up two early fouls, Graham was the guard that provided stability. He was the one taking a charge in the open court. He was the one that led the Jayhawks out of some offensive doldrums during an underwhelming first half — despite playing most of it with two fouls.

“He came in and stepped up,” said junior forward Perry Ellis, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. “That’s what we need from a freshman.”

For Kansas, which won its home opener for the 42nd straight year, this was not the usual opening-night domination. The Jayhawks had to grind it out against an experienced Santa Barbara squad that featured All-American candidate Alan Williams, who finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds. The Jayhawks had to adjust against a confounding zone defense.

For the revamped and youth-laden Jayhawks, it was a necessary first step. Kansas will play No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday night at the Champions Classic. The Jayhawks will be thrown into the maw. And Self will have a chance to see how his team stacks up with one of the nation’s deepest collections of talent.

“It’s a great barometer,” Self said. “But the thing that will be interesting for us: There’s a whole different level we’ve got to play.”

The Jayhawks will certainly need to be better than they were during Friday’s first half, a forgettable 20-minute opening.

Kansas made three of its first 10 shots, going more than five minutes without a field goal at one point. Mason and Graham each picked up two early fouls, leaving Selden to run the point for a handful of possessions.

Graham’s first foul came on a swinging elbow as he attempted to clear space and drive to his left. Santa Barbara’s Zalmico Harmon was in his path, and Graham was called for a flagrant foul for the high elbow. Allen Fieldhouse erupted into a chorus of boos, and the night was officially a struggle.

As Graham headed back to the bench, Self offered a few choice words.

“You can’t take the ball high,” Self said afterward. “You got to take it low. That’ll be a good lesson for him.”

But a few minutes later, Self went back to Graham with 8:47 left in the half. As the Jayhawks’ offense struggled against the zone, Graham quickly hit a flurry of jumpers, helping Kansas turn a 15-14 deficit into a 23-15 lead. Graham finished out the half with another layup, giving the Jayhawks an eight-point cushion.

“The national attention and stuff,” Graham said of his high school reputation, “I never really paid attention to it. I always knew and had confidence.”

The second half would be more of the same — ugly for stretches, and then flashes of brilliance. The Jayhawks’ bench, lined with freshmen, finished with 29 points. And it was a performance by committee. Mykhailiuk came off the bench and made an assortment of hustle plays, finishing with four points in nine minutes. Alexander finished with nine points and four rebounds, showing an ability to step out and knock down the 15-foot jumper.

“No, no, no! Good shot, Cliff,” Self said after.

This was Kansas on Friday night. At times, it looked unnatural; at other times, it looked perfect.

“I think it was good that had this kind of game, a tight game,” Graham said. “Because our next opponent, it’s definitely not going to be a blowout. So we need to get used to playing in close games.”

KU will play Indiana in Hawaii in 2016 – The Kansas basketball program has another Hawaiian trip on the schedule.

The Jayhawks are set to take on Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu on Nov. 11, 2016. The event, a doubleheader that will also feature Arizona and Michigan State, will conclude a five-year cycle of the Armed Forces Classic.

The matchups were announced in an ESPN statement on Friday morning. The event will take place just a few weeks shy of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“We thought playing in the Armed Forces Classic would be a terrific experience for our players,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement, “especially to commemorate such an important time in our country.”

Kansas and Indiana have not faced each other since 1995. The Jayhawks lead the series 7-6. Looking ahead to the 2016-17 schedule, Kansas will face a rigorous week of travel in November. After playing Indiana on Nov. 11, the Jayhawks will travel to New York to play Duke in the Champions Classic on Nov. 15.

Kansas is already set to travel to Hawaii in 2015, when it returns to the Maui Invitational. The Kansas football program will also play at Hawaii in 2017, the return game for a two-game series that begins in 2016.

Reach Rustin Dodd at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

UCSB

Min

FG-A

FT-A

OR-TR

A

PF

PT

Childress

17

0-3

0-0

0-0

2

2

0

Vincent

29

2-9

1-2

0-3

1

1

7

Harmon

28

2-2

1-2

1-4

2

5

6

Williams

35

9-18

4-6

2-13

2

4

22

Brewe

16

2-5

0-0

0-1

0

2

4

Taylor

9

1-1

0-0

0-1

1

1

3

Smith

10

0-1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Bryson

35

3-9

2-2

1-3

2

2

8

Green

16

4-7

1-2

1-1

0

5

9

Beeler

5

0-1

0-0

0-1

0

1

0

Totals

200

23-56

9-14

7-31

10

23

59

Percentages: FG .411, FT .643. 3-Point Goals: 4-19, .211 (Vincent 2-5, Taylor 1-1, Harmon 1-1, Green 0-1, Smith 0-1, Brewe 0-3, Childress 0-3, Bryson 0-4). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 6 (Williams 4, Beeler 2). Turnovers: 15 (Vincent 3, Brewe 3, Taylor 2, Williams 2, Green 2, Harmon, Smith, Beeler). Steals: 8 (Childress 2, Vincent 2, Bryson 2, Harmon, Green). Technical Fouls: None.

KANSAS

Min

FG-A

FT-A

OR-TR

A

PF

PT

Mason III

25

4-10

3-3

0-2

1

2

12

Selden Jr

32

2-8

6-9

1-1

2

2

10

Greene

17

1-3

0-0

0-2

1

0

3

Traylor

29

1-4

0-2

3-10

0

1

2

Ellis

28

4-7

5-6

6-10

1

0

13

Alexander

12

3-5

3-4

0-4

0

2

9

Graham

26

5-8

4-6

1-4

2

2

14

Mykhailiuk

16

1-5

2-2

1-4

3

1

4

Oubre Jr

4

0-0

0-0

0-2

1

0

0

Lucas

9

1-2

0-0

0-2

0

2

2

Mickelson

2

0-1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Totals

200

22-53

23-32

13-42

11

12

69

Percentages: FG .415, FT .719. 3-Point Goals: 2-10, .200 (Greene 1-2, Mason III 1-3, Mykhailiuk 0-2, Selden Jr. 0-3). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 5 (Traylor 2, Selden Jr., Alexander, Mickelson). Turnovers: 16 (Mason III 4, Lucas 2, Ellis 2, Selden Jr. 2, Graham 2, Traylor 2, Oubre Jr., Greene). Steals: 8 (Ellis 3, Lucas, Graham, Mason III, Selden Jr., Traylor). Technical Fouls: Graham.

UC Santa Barbara

23

36

59

Kansas

31

38

69

A—16,300. Officials—Rick Crawford, Bret Smith, Kevin Mathis.

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