Big second half fuels No. 3 Kansas past Fort Hays State

Courtesy: KU Athletics

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Some stingy defense and 16 points from senior guard Devonte’ Graham in the second half helped separate the No. 4/3 Kansas Jayhawks from the Fort Hays State Tigers Tuesday night in Allen Fieldhouse, 86-57. Graham led all scorers with 27 points and connected on six 3-pointers as KU concluded its exhibition campaign.

The Jayhawks will now look ahead to tipping-off the 2017-18 regular season when the Tennessee State Tigers come to Lawrence on Friday, Nov. 10.

After sophomore center Udoka Azubuike kicked off the game with a rim-shaking alley-oop dunk from Graham, the Jayhawks tallied few highlights in the opening half as the pesky Tigers looked to spoil KU’s 48-game home exhibition winning streak. There were five lead changes and two ties over the opening 20 minutes, which included a Hadley Gillum 3-pointer with 2:27 remaining in the first half to make the score level at 33-33.

KU closed the half with some momentum however, after Graham converted on a pair from the free throw line and redshirt-sophomore guard Malik Newman followed up on his own miss to give his team a 38-33 edge as the Jayhawks headed to the locker room.

The Tigers opened the half by cutting their deficit to three points on a Brady Werth lay-in at the 19:06 mark, but that’s as close as the visitors would get. Graham kicked off a 10-3 KU spurt by laying in two of his 16 second-half points. The run gave the Jayhawks their first double-digit lead of the game, and quickly awoke a KU offense that went on to outscore the visitors 48-24 in the final stanza.

It wasn’t just the KU offense that got rolling after the intermission. The Jayhawk defense quieted the Tigers’ shooters by holding them to a 9-of-31 (29 percent) clip in the second half, which included just three 3-pointers after Fort Hays State sunk six in the first frame. Kansas also notched six steals and forced nine FHSU turnovers in the second half, converting those into 13 points off turnovers.

Another thunderous dunk from Azubuike put the Jayhawks up 61-44 at the midway point of the second half. Graham then took over the bulk of the scoring load to close out the contest. The senior guard rained in a trio of 3-pointers and a pair of free throws within two minutes to push the KU lead to 27 points before the final media timeout.

Kansas cruised from there, as four different Jayhawks got on the scoresheet over the waning minutes of the contest to help finish off the 86-57 win to close out exhibition play.

Graham’s 27 points would have tied his career high if the game had been in the regular season, as would his six 3-pointers. He was joined by three teammates to score in double figures, who included Azubuike, who tallied 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and added nine rebounds.

For the second-straight game, Billy Preston was a sharp shooter. The freshman forward was 5-of-6 from the field to add 11 points to the KU total. Preston ends his first exhibition season 14-of-16 in his three preseason games.

UP NEXT
Kansas will open its 120th season of basketball when it welcomes Tennessee State to Allen Fieldhouse on Friday, Nov. 10. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 8 p.m., on ESPNU. KU has won 43-straight home openers in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks will then journey to Chicago to take part in the Champions Classic when they face No. 5/4 Kentucky on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Tip-off is slated for 8:30 p.m., on ESPN.

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