Kansas forward Dedric Lawson was so eager to play in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament first-round game that he “went to bed early last night so the morning could come faster” in Salt Lake City.
For the 6-foot-9 junior from Memphis, Tenn., that meant 10:30 to 10:45 p.m., an hour or so after the Jayhawks had to be in their hotel rooms.
The extra rest must have proved beneficial, because Lawson scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to power No. 4 seed Kansas to an easy 87-53 win over No. 13 seed Northeastern in front of an announced crowd of 16,576 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in the Midwest Region.
“Dedric is a hard matchup for folks,” said Kansas coach Bill Self after the Jayhawks won their 13th straight first-round game.
Kansas (26-9) will play No. 5 seed Auburn, which eked out a 78-77 win over New Mexico State, in a second-round game on Saturday in SLC.
“I thought our guys were as locked in as they’ve been in a long time,” Self said.
Except for the first few minutes of the second half, that is.
After Kansas had gone on an 11-0 run midway through the first half to take a 37-35 lead at the break, Northeastern (23-11) scored the first five points of the second half.
“We came out in the second half kind of lackadaisical, kind of comfortable, and our coach got us in a huddle and once he did, the guys just realized the game was not over and we just locked down and guarded them,” Lawson said.
Self wasn’t amused. He called a quick timeout, and whatever he said must have worked. Quentin Grimes and Lawson hit consecutive 3-pointers and Lawson followed with a layup to push the Jayhawks’ advantage to 15 and the rout was on.
“I just thought we were jacking around,” Self said. “We had allowed them to think they could play with us.”
Kansas pushed its lead to 33 points before reserves took over in the final five minutes.
Grimes “made the biggest basket of the game,” Self said.
The Huskies of the Colonial Athletic Association made the heavily favored Jayhawks struggle early, however. The Boston school was within a point after a 3-pointer by San Diego transfer Vasa Pusica, a 6-5 guard from Serbia who played high school basketball in Wichita, Kan.
But the rest of the game belonged to the Big 12 power, and Northeastern’s upset dream was dashed. Being diplomatic, Self said the margin of the game was “misleading” because KU made shots and Northeastern missed shots it normally makes. The Huskies shot 26 percent in the first half, 28 percent in the game.
Dotson finished with 18 points, while K.J. Lawson — Dedric’s brother — added 13.
“It was a great moment,” said KJ Lawson. “The kind you dream about.”
Dedric Lawson scored 16 points in the first half and Kansas shot 44 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. Kansas enjoyed a 26-4 scoring advantage in the paint in the first half, 50-16 in the game.
“We didn’t play great early offensively at all,” Self said. “But after [Northeastern cut the deficit to 20-19], after about the 10-minute mark in the first half, I thought we executed on both ends really well.”
In other words, the Jayhawks finally woke up — especially the one who went to bed early.