It wasn't exactly pretty, but it was enough.
No. 13 Kansas defeated the Pittsburg State Gorillas last night in its season-opening exhibition matchup, 84-55.
In a game where preseason All-American Thomas Robinson, senior guard Tyshawn Taylor and junior guard Elijah Johnson sat on the bench in street clothes, Kansas relied heavily on young and inexperienced players to pull past the Gorillas.
Kansas was led in scoring by redshirt senior guard Conner Teahan, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting including 5-for-8 from downtown. Junior center Jeff Withey recorded his first career triple-double on 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. Senior guard Travis Releford and freshman guard Naadir Tharpe also added 14 and 12 points, respectively.
In his first career start, Teahan came out on fire early for Kansas, knocking down three three-pointers to start off the first half and bouncing KU out to a an early 9-0 lead. Teahan has always been known as a sharpshooter, but in his four years at Kansas he has only managed nine points as a career high. Although these statistics won't count—as it was an exhibition game—it showed Teahan's progression as a contributor.
Unfortunately for Kansas, the early lead would slowly diminish as the first half came to an end. When the Jayhawks walked into the locker room at halftime, Self's squad was only leading the Division II opponents by a score of 32-27.
But that's why Kansas has Bill Self, right?
KU looked more like a polished young squad in the second half, keeping the Gorillas at arms length and finally blowing the game open toward the end of the second half. Regardless, you have to consider who was on the floor for Kansas. Other than Teahan, Releford and Withey, most of the Jayhawks who got some playing time had rarely seen the court before. After the nerves had faded, the flow came easier to the young Jayhawks.
KU saw its lead slowly increase toward the end of the second half, and its players loosened up as well, eventually winning by a comfortable 29 points.
So, what did we learn from KU's victory over Pitt State?
Thumbs up for:
Conner Teahan can hit three-pointers when he's open. Do I think he's going to be the next Jimmer Fredette? No. But Teahan has loads of experience in his fifth season with KU and is going to have to be a bigger factor than he probably expected three months ago. Granted it was against a smaller team, so let's give him a few games and see how he plays.
When KU first started Brady Morningstar in 2008, fans groaned, complained and wondered what the heck Self was thinking. Even if he's been riding the bench his whole career, he has grown and continued to improve. It should be interesting to see how Teahan turns out, but he had a heck of a game against Pitt State.
Naadir Tharpe will be a nice compliment to Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor coming off of the bench. Tharpe looked comfortable in his first game as a Kansas Jayhawk. The true freshman was in the starting lineup and worked well with his surroundings. Tharpe was able to penetrate the lane and provide some solid kick-out passes to the perimeter, and it looked as if Tharpe and Releford already have good chemistry.
The New Hampshire native played at Brewster Academy—the same school as teammate Thomas Robinson—so I guarantee there is chemistry between those two as well. Overall, a very promising start for the young Jayhawk.
Jeff Withey dominated the paint with his first career triple-double. Yes, I am well aware that Pitt State's tallest player was only 6'6"—as opposed to the seven-foot Withey—but a triple-double is still impressive. There are still some flaws in Withey's game, but it has and will become more obvious that Danny Manning has taken another big man under his wing. Look for Withey to continue to improve and get more physical inside.
Kansas held Pitt State to just 25.3 percent from the field. Considering Kansas lost a lot of its firepower on the offensive end from a season ago, defense is going to be extremely important moving forward. KU also defended the perimeter well, holding the Gorillas to just 23.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Thumbs down for:
Kansas lost the turnover battle, 23-16. Once again, we must return to the fact that most of the players on the floor for Kansas had never seen extensive playing time. When you factor in nerves and a lack of experience, you're going to have some bad passes here and there. With the ball in Johnson and Taylor's hands in the future, that number shouldn't be as high. Turnovers will definitely be something Self emphasizes in practice this week.
Will Jeff Withey be a dominant big man in the Big 12 this season?
KU shot 51.4 percent from the free-throw line. This is not a good sign. It doesn't matter who or where you are playing, a free throw is the same as it was in middle school. Free throws are crucial for a team like Kansas that will have little margin for error this season.
Jeff Withey—who will get hacked all season long because of his height—was just 8-for-15 from the charity stripe. He needs to get his free-throw percentage up drastically, or defenders will send him to the line all day.
KU was outrebounded on the offensive glass, 21-11. This may be a simple case of not blocking out and will surely flip around when Thomas Robinson returns, but is still an important aspect of this Jayhawk team. Like I mentioned, KU will have little margin for error. Don't worry, though, Bill Self will have this fixed by the time the next exhibition match rolls along.
Overall, I was actually impressed with KU's second half surge. Beating Pitt State by 29 points without the help of your three best players should breathe a sigh of relief for most Kansas fans. While the victory doesn't prove much, it gave us a tiny glimpse of some of the talent that will most likely be coming off of the bench this season. If you'd like to hear Bill Self's postgame comments, you can listen here via KUSports.com.
No. 13 Kansas will be in action again when it hosts Fort Hays State University at Allen Fieldhouse next Tuesday, Nov. 8. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
Kip Reiserer covers Big 12 and Kansas Jayhawks basketball. You can view his writer profile here.