Frank Mason finished with 17 points, nine boards and four assists as No. 2 Kansas knocked off No. 15 New Mexico State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, 75-56.
The Aggies were a team projected by a number of people as a team that could give the Jayhawks some trouble. NMSU entered the game on a 15-game winning streak, having gone 18-1 in their last 19 games, a stretch that just so happened to coincide with Daniel Mullings and Tshilidzi Nephawe getting healthy. Combine that with the fact that Kansas was playing without Cliff Alexander and with a banged up Perry Ellis — he sprained his right knee in the regular season finale — and stranger things have happened.
Not on Friday.
Kansas made light work of NMSU, leading by as much as 18 in the first half and pushing that lead over 20 for most of the second half. The better news: Ellis didn’t look as hobbled as he did during the Big 12 tournament, which is critical for the Jayhawks’ chances of making a run in this tournament. He finished with just nine points on 4-for-10 shooting, clearly not his best outing, but he wasn’t moving with an exaggerated limp.
Two other stats worth noting out of this game:
- The Jayhawks were 9-for-13 from three, which is exactly the kind of confidence boost this team needed after struggling from beyond the arc to close the regular season, including a three-game stretch where they shot just 1-for-31 from deep. The Jayhawks rely more on the three-ball than in previous seasons.
- Landen Lucas continued to play well. He had seven points and nine boards, four of which came on the offensive end of the floor. He’s now averaging 8.6 points and 7.8 boards in the last five games.
Kansas will advance to play the winner of No. 7 Wichita State and No. 10 Indiana.