LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Five players produced nearly all the points for Kansas. One big man created most of the excitement.
Sasha Kaun brought a huge roar from the Allen Fieldhouse crowd when the 6-foot-11 center came into an 89-54 rout of Tennessee State midway through the first half Tuesday night, much sooner than anyone had hoped 22 days earlier when he partially tore a tendon in his right knee.
A physical, intimidating presence inside, Kaun will be key to any chance the 10th-ranked Jayhawks (3-1) have of meeting their lofty long-term goals this season.
“We’ve been talking about leaders. That may be the guy,” coach Bill Self said. “He certainly has changed the mind-set of our team in the locker room with the excitement of his being out there. Even yesterday in practice, he was going to hit you and foul you, and that’s something we just haven’t had.”
Kaun played 9 minutes and scored seven points. Freshman guard Sherron Collins had 19 points, and Brandon Rush added 14 points and 10 rebounds in the second-round game of the Las Vegas Invitational.
“It was great to get back out there with the guys,” Kaun said. “It was very nice to be back playing in Allen Fieldhouse in front of the fans.”
The knee, he said, “is sore, but the pain isn’t like it was before.”
In their best 20 minutes so far this season, the Jayhawks raced to a 50-19 halftime lead, outscoring the Tigers 23-5 during one stretch.
Julian Wright had 14 points while Darnell Jackson scored 11 and freshman Darrell Arthur 10.
“The first half was terrific,” Self said. “The second half, I think we got kind of bored.”
Clarence Matthews made a field goal for Tennessee State (0-2) with about 6:30 left in the first half, but the Tigers didn’t score again until his three-point play 33 seconds into the second half.
“They go 100 mph the entire game, so we just needed to run and run and run,” Matthews said. “They ran their game and that’s what they do. They are a fast-paced team.”
Matthews, the Ohio Valley Conference’s leading rebounder last year, had 18 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 1:33 to play.
“It’s no embarrassment to lose to Kansas,” Tennessee State coach Cy Alexander said. “Kansas is a top five team in the country, talent-wise, and as they continue to play, they are going to be one of the top teams in the country.”
The popular Kaun triggered a roar when he put up his first shot and it bounced around the rim a few times before dropping in. He then hit a free throw for a three-point play and a 33-15 Jayhawks lead.
“He came back yesterday and changed the whole practice by blocking shots, ducking in hard, going to the rim whenever possible and just making great plays,” Rush said.
It was the second game in a row a freshman led the talented Jayhawks in scoring. Arthur, the 6-9 center who had 26 points two days earlier against Towson State and was averaging 20, picked up three quick fouls in the first half and sat out much of the game.
The Jayhawks, who dropped seven spots from No. 3 after their upset loss last week to Oral Roberts, shot 52 percent, held a 46-32 rebound advantage and kept dazzling the visitors with one athletic play after another as the lead climbed into the 30s.
Wright, the co-winner along with Rush for preseason pick as Big 12 player of the year, had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 19 minutes of the rousing first half.
Wright fed Jackson with a nifty pass for a basket that made it 52-32, then stuffed the ball home after taking a pass from Russell Robinson for a 71-34 lead. Rush hit a 3-pointer for the final points of the half.
LaDarious Weaver had 13 points for Tennessee State, picked second in the Ohio Valley this preseason.
Kansas’ biggest lead was 78-36 with 8:25 left when Robinson made a steal and a layup.
The Jayhawks have beaten Towson State and Tennessee State in the first two rounds and will play Ball State in the third round Friday in Las Vegas, then have their much-anticipated meeting with No. 1 Florida.