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Withey comes up big in season opener

The first game of regular season was slow to start for the men’s basketball team

By Nathan Fordyce

After two slow exhibition games, senior center Jeff Withey finally looked the part of a guy that can anchor the No. 7 Kansas Jayhawks.

It was slow start against Southeast Missouri State in the season opener Friday night, but Withey and the Jayhawks prevailed with a 74-55 victory. Kansas coach Bill Self said the game could have been a lot better, score-wise, had Kansas been able to knock down some jumpers.

“I thought we did some good things tonight considering they only shot 29 percent and we out rebounded them, we only turned it over 13 times and we go 24-of-28 from the free throw line, that (typically) is going to be a 40-point game,” Self said. “Miserable shooting and obviously the offense gets stagnant when that happens. We guarded pretty good. We just missed shots.  Not great, but not awful, you make a couple shots and this looks a lot better.”

Withey started out the game slow but had a big second half as he went for 17 points, 12 rebounds and five points on the game. But even with that stat line, Withey is aware that he still needs to get better.

“I still have a lot of things to work on. I’m definitely getting more confident and more comfortable with the new guys. It’s a process and it’s still early, but I’m getting better every game,” Withey said.

Withey’s good stat line was compounded with a great debut by freshman forward Perry Ellis. Ellis continues to look the part as his career is just starting to get going. Ellis had 15 points and eight rebounds Friday night.

“It was great getting my first game under my belt. Just listening to (my teammates) and the seniors really just motivates me day in and day out. They really help me a lot,” Ellis said.

Freshman Ben McLemore stuffed the stat sheet as he compiled nine points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three blocks in his debut for the Jayhawks.

Senior guard Elijah Johnson didn’t have a great game as he had just four points on 1-of-5 shooting. Johnson’s play is something Self wants to see improve.

“We are so much better with Elijah and he was not a big factor, but at least he was more aggressive,” Self said.

That aggression was one of the things Self liked about the opening victory.

“It’s just the mindset of being aggressive at all times.  It blows my mind that we are not an aggressive group.  We are a passive group right now and we have to pick it up.  I’ll keep saying it and I’m not going to back off of it,” Self said. “We are going to play against real guys real soon and those guys think that this piece of meat may be the last piece of meat on earth and they play like it. So, if we don’t play like it, we will get our butts handed to us.”

Even though the Jayhawks won by 19, the play wasn’t as good as the score might have seen. They shot just 38.7 percent and 9.5 percent on three pointers, 2-of-21 on three’s as a team.

The defense was just as good as expected as they held the Redhawks to 29 percent shooting and out-rebounded them 46 to 32. There’s still room for improvement as the Jayhawks will take on No. 14 Michigan State in Atlanta on Tuesday Nov. 13 as part of the Champions Classic.