LAS VEGAS (AP)—Kansas didn’t play well in its first casino game, yet still won easily. The No. 10 Jayhawks can only hope their luck changes before they face Florida.
Mario Chalmers hit three key 3-pointers and scored 13 points, and Kansas overcame awful first-half shooting in a 64-46 victory over Ball State in the Las Vegas Invitational on Friday night.
Brandon Rush had 11 points and nine rebounds after finally getting his game together in the second half for the Jayhawks (4-1), but this young team still has a wealth of offensive problems that couldn’t be solved before its showdown with the top-ranked Gators on Saturday night.
Though coach Bill Self saw mistakes that weren’t surprising for a bunch of underclassmen playing their first game away from Allen Fieldhouse this season, he didn’t mince words after his team missed 24 of its first 31 shots.
“Pitiful offense that was sluggish,” Self said. “Absolutely pitiful. We’re not on the same page yet. We don’t share the ball. The ball sticks in our hands. … We didn’t play well enough to win by 18.”
Julian Wright had nine points and 12 rebounds for the Jayhawks, who fell seven spots from their No. 3 preseason ranking with a home loss to Oral Roberts last week, but still are off to their first 4-1 start in four years.
Kansas could repair its reputation with a strong showing against the defending national champions—but the Jayhawks couldn’t even get comfortable against Ball State until making a 21-8 run in the second half.
Chalmers, the sophomore guard from Alaska, was the Jayhawks’ spark plug on both ends of the court until fouling out with 4:11 to play. Rush went 0-for-4 and had four turnovers in the first half, and leading scorer Darrell Arthur also struggled.
“Offensively, we weren’t in the game,” Wright said. “We were looking for someone else to make things happen. We’re going to turn the ball over, but we didn’t make that extra pass.”
Anthony Newell had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Skip Mills scored 13 points for Ball State (2-2), which will face Western Kentucky on Saturday night. Center Micah Rollin fouled out midway through the second half, and the Cardinals never managed any offensive consistency against the bigger, stronger Jayhawks.
“I wish I could stretch them a few inches taller, but we’re fighting and scrapping on defense,” Ball State coach Ronny Thompson said. “We fought against Kansas, and we’re going to fight (Saturday).”
Both teams had early trouble shooting in the Orleans Arena, a cozy 8,500-seat venue also used for concerts and minor-league hockey games adjacent to the casino of the same name. Kansas missed 19 of its first 23 shots over the first 8 minutes, yet didn’t fall behind because Ball State missed 14 of its first 19 as well.
The Jayhawks got their first comfortable margin on Chalmers’ back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first half, then took a 28-19 halftime lead by making their final two shots, including Sherron Collins’ 3-pointer.
“Both teams came out hungry to play defense, and that’s why it was so tough,” Newell said. “We got a lot of shots that we like. We’ve just got to knock them down, that’s all.”
Kansas’ lead dwindled to 33-27 in the second half before Russell Robinson’s 3-pointer—his only field goal of the game—sparked a 9-0 rally that finally wore out the Cardinals. The Jayhawks scored five straight points moments later, highlighted by Chalmers’ steal and breakaway dunk to take a 47-31 lead with 8 minutes to play.
Rush then hit Darnell Jackson for a spectacular alley-oop that put Kansas up by 17. After struggling in the first half, the Jayhawks went 13-for-22 after halftime.
Arthur, who averaged 17.5 points in Kansas’ first four games, finished with nine points and six rebounds.