Lawson leads No. 2 Kansas past New Mexico State 63-60
By JORDAN WOLF, Associated Press
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Dedric Lawson’s second-half performance was invaluable for No. 2 Kansas.
Lawson had 20 points and 10 rebounds and scored Kansas’ final 14 points as the undefeated Jayhawks got past New Mexico State 63-60 in the Jayhawk Shootout on Saturday night.
The Jayhawks’ offense stalled after a hot start in their first game without injured center Udoka Azubuike, going scoreless for over five minutes in the first half. Lawson, their offensive anchor, had just two points at halftime, but scored 18 in the second half as they put it together and escaped with a win.
“He didn’t get a lot done in the first half, and he’s better than that . but he did make some key plays late,” coach Bill Self said. “We don’t win the game, obviously, unless he made those plays.”
Lawson began to heat up when he tied the score with a layup with six minutes to go. He hit a 3-pointer — just his second of the season — with under four minutes left to open a 60-57 lead, and then hit three free throws in the last minute to seal the victory for Kansas (8-0).
It didn’t take any motivational speeches or self-searching for Lawson to overcome his early struggles. He just needed to see his shots start to fall.
“It’s just basketball,” Lawson said. “It’s all about getting into a rhythm. Once you get into a rhythm, you get into the flow of the game.”
Marcus Garrett was the only other member of the Jayhawks in double figures, with 10 points. Charlie Moore had three steals in his first start.
Lawson wasn’t perfect, as he missed a free throw with 11 seconds left that would have made it a four-point game. New Mexico State (7-2) then had the chance to tie, but JoJo Zamora’s attempt bounced off the rim.
Zamora led the Aggies with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Ivan Aurrecoechea added 14 points and six assists and Johnny McCants turned in a career high 12 points.
New Mexico State played well for 40 minutes, but just couldn’t execute when it mattered. That was the difference.
“We had our opportunities I thought in the second half, talked about it in the locker room,” coach Chris Jans said. “We just couldn’t knock them out.”
The Jayhawks improved to 4-0 all-time against the Aggies with the win.
With Azubuike out, Lawson picked up some of the slack offensively. But on the defensive end, Kansas struggled to replace the 7-footer’s presence inside, allowing 36 of New Mexico State’s points to come in the paint.
“I thought our bigs made their bigs look really good tonight,” Self said.
MCCANTS’ CAREER NIGHT
McCants’ 12 points were a career high for the sophomore. At the end of the game, he was overcome with emotion, burying his face in his hands as he crouched down and was consoled by teammates.
“I’ve never had a game like this in my college career . my emotions just came out at the end of the game, because I felt like we had it,” McCants said.
VICK BENCHED AGAIN
Lagerald Vick was absent from the starting lineup once again for Kansas, as Self sat him down for the second straight game.
“He had a really bad Thursday,” Self said. “Let’s just leave it at that. Hopefully those days are behind us.”
Vick had been the Jayhawks’ leading scorer before the back-to-back benchings. He finished with five points, six rebounds and five assists.
New Mexico State hung with the No. 2 team in the country and perhaps lived up to its billing as the preseason pick to win the Western Athletic Conference.
With the 7-foot Azubuike on the bench with a sprained ankle, Kansas once again struggled before pulling out a win.
New Mexico State has a nine-day break before returning home to face Northern Colorado.
Kansas heads back to Allen Fieldhouse for its clash with No. 21 Villanova next Saturday.
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