WICHITA, Kan. – A game-high 29 points from senior Devonte’ Graham propelled the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks past the pesky No. 16 seed Penn Quakers, 76-60, in the first round of the NCAA Championship Thursday inside INTRUST Bank Arena. The Jayhawks, who trailed the Quakers by 10 points in the first half, shot over 54 percent over the final 25 minutes of game action to sprint past Penn and to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the 12th-straight year.
The victory moved the Jayhawks to 28-7 on the year and gave KU 28 wins for the third-straight season and ninth time in the 15 years under head coach Bill Self. Penn concluded its 2017-18 season at 24-9.
With Kansas trailing an upset-minded Penn team by double-digits just over midway through the first half, the Jayhawks turned to Big 12 Player of the Year and Wooden Award candidate, Graham, who pulled his team from the 10-point hole. He scored 15 points on a 22-5 Jayhawk run to close the opening stanza, giving a lead back to the Jayhawks that they would not relinquish.
It was a slow start on the offensive end of the floor for the Jayhawks, who managed to convert on just three of their first 11 shots from the field. Penn took advantage of KU’s cold start, going 3-of-4 from beyond the arc within the first five minutes to help build a 12-7 lead by the under-12 minute timeout.
Graham broke KU out of a five-minute scoring drought and ended the 8-0 Quaker run with two of his 19 first-half points, but another 7-2 Penn spurt ensued and the No. 16 seed found itself with a double-digit lead, 21-11, with eight minutes left in the half.
The Jayhawks didn’t panic though, as Graham led the KU charge to get his team back in control of the game prior to the intermission. The senior scored 15 points during a 22-5 Jayhawk stretch over the final seven minutes of the half, which featured a pair of Graham 3-pointers that not only erased the 10-point deficit, but gave Kansas the lead before halftime.
Graham drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with three seconds before the halftime buzzer and promptly went to the line and swished all three charities to give the Jayhawks a 33-26 lead at the break.
Kansas kept rolling after the intermission as the Jayhawks hit seven of their first nine shots to open the half, which was capped by a Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk jumper that gave KU a 13-point lead, 50-37, less than six minutes in to the second stanza.
A trio of Penn 3-pointers over the next four minutes helped the Quakers quickly whittle their deficit down to single digits. Caleb Wood’s trey with 11:23 remaining pulled his team within four points, 52-48. That’s as close as the would-be Cinderella would get.
The Jayhawks had another answer, this time with Lagerald Vick as the catalyst. The junior guard swished a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer two minutes later to highlight a 15-5 KU run that extended the Jayhawks’ lead to 13. Vick capped the Jayhawk spurt with an alley-oop dunk at the 5:31 mark and KU was back out front, 67-54.
Kansas kept the foot on the gas all the way to the final buzzer pushing its lead to 19 points in the waning minutes of regulation. KU’s final five points came from Mitch Lightfoot and the Jayhawks closed out the 76-60 win over the Quakers.
Graham ended the day with 29 points, the most by a Jayhawk in an NCAA Tournament game since Sherron Collins scored 32 in a first-round game against North Dakota State in 2009. Three Jayhawks joined Graham in double figures. Vick scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting while Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman each added 10 points. Lightfoot was just one point shy of his first-career double-double after he contributed nine points and pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds.
The Jayhawks ended the game with a 44.3 percent shooting clip despite hitting just 25 percent of their shots over the first 13 minutes of the contest. KU also hit 15-of-17 from the free throw line (88.2 percent), its best clip of the year with a minimum of 15 attempts, while Penn connected on only five of its 14 free throw tries.