WICHITA, Kan. — Devonte Graham ignited sluggish Kansas midway through the first half, pouring in 29 points and lifting the top-seeded Jayhawks to a tough, grind-it-out 76-60 victory over No. 16 Pennsylvania in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
Lagerald Vick added 14 points for the Jayhawks (28-7), who trailed the Ivy League champs by 10 in the early stages before going on a 19-2 run late in the first half to take control.
Graham, perhaps atoning for a miserable performance in last year’s tournament loss to Oregon, also had six rebounds and six assists as the Jayhawks cruised into a second-round matchup with eighth-seeded Seton Hall or No. 9 seed North Carolina State in the loaded Midwest Region.
A.J. Brodeur had 14 points to lead the Quakers (24-9), but he was just 6 of 16 from the field and committed five turnovers. He was also 1 of 5 from the foul line, where Penn was 5 of 14 as a team.
The Jayhawks played most of the way without 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, who hurt a ligament in his left knee in practice last week. The sophomore center three minutes, all in the first half, and clearly struggled to move around while wearing a bulky brace on his leg.
Malik Newman, the MVP of last week’s Big 12 Tournament, and Svi Mykhailiuk also scored 10 points apiece for Kansas, which won its 12th consecutive NCAA opener.
For much of the way, the improbable seemed entirely possible.
Trying to succeed where 132 other No. 16 seeds had failed, the Quakers raced to a 21-11 lead with about 7 minutes left in the first half. They leaned on their stingy perimeter defense to limit the hot-shooting Jayhawks’ 3-point barrage, and their pick-and-roll offense was humming.
It took the Big 12 player of the year to restore some order.
Graham picked the pocket of Caleb Wood on defense, trailed a fast-break play and was there to lay in Mykhailiuk’s missed layup, trigging what would become a 19-2 run over the next six minutes.
Graham added back-to-back baskets, using his speed and crossover to get to the rim, then knocked down a pair of 3s later in the run. Graham capped his 19-point first-half barrage by drawing a foul as the Quakers were attempted to give a foul away, then hitting all three foul shots.
That gave the Big 12 champions a 33-26 lead heading into the locker room.
Penn hung around until midway through the second half, when the bigger, stronger Jayhawks began to assert control. Their veteran backcourt did most of the work, slowly drawing away down the stretch.
Pennsylvania was one of the top 3-point defenders in the nation, and the Jayhawks missed eight of their first nine attempts. But Kansas still went 7 of 17 for the game, and each of those 3s seemed to come whenever Penn was threatening to make a run.
Kansas only got four points from its bench, a big concern going forward. The Jayhawks have used a short lineup all season, made even shorter by Azubuike’s absence. But teams with little depth tend to wear down in the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Pennsylvania is headed for the offseason while the Jayhawks, who made their first appearance in Wichita since 1992, await the Seton Hall-North Carolina State winner on Saturday.