LAWRENCE — Fitting of a rare Halloween tilt, Kansas basketball was scary good Thursday.
And if the exhibition against visiting Pittsburg State was any indication, the Jayhawks’ No. 3 preseason ranking doesn’t have the appearance of a short-lived costume.
Ochai Agbaji scored 19 points to pace the Jayhawks in a 102-42 victory over the Division II-level Gorillas, the sophomore guard one of several contributors on an evening that saw KU author separate runs of 22-4, 13-0 and 19-6. The Jayhawks looked like a well-oiled machine in the final exhibition ahead of the team’s high-profile regular-season opener against No. 4 Duke at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Agbaji, who was redshirting at the time of last year’s Champions Classic clash with Michigan State, acknowledged the showdown with the Blue Devils has been on the back of his mind for some time, though it certainly didn’t prove a distraction Thursday.
“Not having the chance to play in last year’s Champions Classic, not experiencing that, it’s a first-time thing for me,” Agbaji said. “So I’m excited for it and I’m just preparing for it. That’s something I’ve really been putting an emphasis on, that first game and how excited I am for it.”
Against the Gorillas, the Jayhawks looked to be in midseason form in what became a decisive first-half effort.
KU ripped open a 33-8 advantage out of the gates, with bigs Udoka Azubuike, David McCormack and Silvio De Sousa making hay to the tune of 14 combined points during that stretch.
Azubuike and McCormack, who started side-by-side in a two-big look, scored the Jayhawks’ first eight points. Later, Azubuike ballooned the home squad’s edge to 22-4 with a rim-rocking dunk that cleaned up a Devon Dotson missed layup on a fastbreak attempt. De Sousa’s put-back layup in traffic led to the 33-8 lead with 8:49 left before halftime.
The Gorillas tried to get back into the contest, putting together a modest 12-5 run from that moment to cut the deficit to 18. But that’s when Agbaji made sure KU entered halftime with a staggering lead.
Agbaji, who in an earlier highlight threw down a windmill dunk off his own steal, hit three consecutive 3-point tries after an Azubuike put-back to push the KU lead to 29 points and 49-22 at the break. Agbaji finished the opening half with 16 points on 6-for-6 shooting and 4-for-4 accuracy from 3-point range, also pitching in 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal and no turnovers in just 14 minutes on the court.
The Jayhawks’ starting lineup blew the doors off the game out of the intermission, riding an 13-0 run to build an insurmountable 40-point hole for the overmatched Gorillas. Agbaji hit a 3, Marcus Garrett added one of his own, and in a sign of how well things went for KU on the evening, McCormack couldn't dunk a lob thrown by Dotson but still managed to convert it into a somewhat fluky layup.
“I thought we did some good things,” KU coach Bill Self said. “When we had that first group in there that got off to a good start, I would’ve liked to have probably seen them play another three or four minutes together because they were on a pretty good roll.”
Pittsburg State's Antonio Givens mercifully ended the 13-0 run, hitting a free throw for the Gorillas’ first point of the half to make the deficit 62-23 with 14:45 remaining. But Dotson responded with a trey, kickstarting a 19-6 run aided by a parade of other Jayhawks in the eventual 102-42 victory.
Agbaji, who worked on improving his shot this summer, finished 7-for-8 from the field and 5-for-6 from 3-point range in 22 minutes. Self indicated he’s already seeing those offseason efforts pay off for the Kansas City, Mo., native.
“He’s shot it extremely well. I mean, tonight he looked pure,” Self said. “Hope we can bottle that. ... Such a good athlete. He’ll be able to drive the ball better if people have to crowd him, and I think that was great to see tonight.”
McCormack (13 points) and Dotson (12 points, seven assists) rounded out the double-figure scorers for KU in what was only the program’s second-ever game contested on Oct. 31. De Sousa, Christian Braun, Tristan Enaruna and Mitch Lightfoot pitched in nine points apiece for the Jayhawks.
As a group, KU finished with 27 assists against just four turnovers.
“I thought we played pretty well,” Self said. “We shot it pretty good and took care of the basketball for the most part. Statistically we did some good things, but I don’t know, that may be a little bit unbalanced because they missed some wide-open shots too. I thought Doke (Azubuike, three blocked shots) protected the rim better. I thought there were some good things that happened.”
Grant Harding and Drew Roelfs led Pittsburg State with nine points apiece.
Despite the blowout, there was at least one moment of levity for a visiting player.
Pittsburg State’s R.J. Lawrence, a 5-foot-11, 145-pound freshman guard out of Blue Springs, Mo., shared a laugh with the 6-9, 245-pound De Sousa ahead of a free-throw attempt, a moment he later explained in comments that perfectly encapsulated an advantage the Jayhawks enjoyed against the Gorillas but won't have versus fellow blue-blood Duke.
“I was just asking him, ‘What does KU feed them boys?’ ” Lawrence recalled, “because they’re all just swole, they’re all tall.”
Lawrence apparently didn’t get a satisfactory response.
“I think it’s a secret,” he continued. “Y’all got some secret agency here that’s just feeding you boys hormones. I don’t know."