Seven blocks by defending Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Withey highlighted the defensive effort that pushed No. 7 Kansas men's basketball past Washburn, 62-50, in the Jayhawks' final exhibition game of the 2012-13 season, Monday evening at Allen Fieldhouse.
On a night where the Jayhawk offense struggled to find rhythm, the defense stepped up to out-block the Ichabods, 13-3, and hold the visitors to a 26 percent (16-for-62) shooting night. Five different players blocked at least one shot on Monday, led by Withey's seven. The senior center added nine points and eight rebounds.
KU ends the 2012-13 exhibition season with a 4-2 record, which includes the Jayhawks' games against the Swiss National Team and AMW France in Europe this August. Overall, the Jayhawks moved to 61-9 all-time in exhibition games.
Washburn, who is ranked No. 2 on the NABC Division II Coaches poll, also completed its preseason slate on Monday and did so by holding the Jayhawks to their lowest scoring output in an exhibition game at Allen Fieldhouse. The previous low came in a 73-47 victory against Pittsburg State on Nov. 14, 2005.
The Jayhawk offense still managed a 43 percent (20-for-46) shooting effort, led by redshirt freshman Ben McLemore. The rookie guard provided the offensive power, contributing 13 points in the first half and a team-best 17 for the evening on 6-of-12 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, giving him the only double-double of the night.
McLemore was joined on the leaderboard by senior guard Elijah Johnson. Johnson wrapped up his evening with 13 points as both guards hit three, three-pointers. Freshman forward Perry Ellis was the only other Jayhawk in double figures, contributing 10 points and five rebounds.
Senior guard Will McNeill led the Ichabod offense, tallying 13 points, while junior forward Alex North set the defensive tone with a team-best four steals. All but two of the 11 Ichabods who checked into the game swiped at least one steal, forcing 24 Kansas turnovers - more than the Jayhawks committed in any game last season.
While Kansas kicked off the game a chilly 1-for-7, Washburn needed less than a minute to put together an 8-0 run. Fueled by back-to-back threes from senior guards Martin Mitchell and Bobby Chipman, the Ichabods took a 10-5 lead and prompted a timeout from head coach Bill Self prior to the first media break.
Responsive to the early timeout, senior guard Travis Releford stole a Washburn pass under the basket and took off where he found Johnson down the court to complete the fast break layup, capping a 7-0 run that returned the lead to Kansas. Warming up, Johnson drilled a three from the left wing and Ellis muscled his way to a layup less than 30 seconds later to get the Jayhawks off and running.
Though Kansas warmed up to hit 8-of-12 after the team's slow start, the Ichabods held the Jayhawks' lead to single digits until McLemore got rolling. The redshirt freshman broke loose for 13 of the Jayhawks next 15 points, handing Kansas the 34-19 lead with his third three-pointer of the game just 30 seconds after taking a charge on the other end of the floor.
A layup from Ellis followed McLemore's scoring show, but was the last time Kansas scored in the half. Although Washburn couldn't cut the Jayhawk lead back to single digits, the visitors kept KU from scoring for the final three and a half minutes. KU took a 36-24 lead into halftime.
Releford went 1-for-2 at the line to provide Kansas' only point prior to the first media timeout to open the second half. Withey's dunk at the 15:13 mark snapped a nearly nine-minute field-goal drought for the Jayhawks. KU, however, benefitted from an even slower start on Washburn's side as the visitors started the half making two of their first 10 shots, allowing the Jayhawks to keep a double-digit distance.
Four-straight free throws from Johnson and McLemore extended KU's lead, 47-30, the largest lead of the evening with less than 12 minutes to play. Meanwhile, a big block from Ellis reenergized the crowd, but three-straight Kansas turnovers prevented the home team from breaking the game open.
The spark Kansas was in need of came with less than five minutes to play. Withey swatted away a Washburn three-point attempt and he quickly came up with the loose ball, tossing it up the floor for a transition dunk by Releford. The senior guard was fouled on the play, which he converted to a three-point play, stretching the lead to 58-42. A free throw from Withey with a minute and a half to play accounted for KU's final scoring of the night as the Jayhawks settled for the 62-50 win.
No. 7 Kansas will open regular-season play when it hosts Southeast Missouri State on Nov. 9 in the opening round of the CBE Classic. Tip time from Allen Fieldhouse will be 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on the Jayhawk IMG Television Network.
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