No. 2 KU pulls away from Iona
By GEOFFREY CALVERT
LAWRENCE -- Iona's Sean Armand earned some unwanted attention this week when he told a local reporter that he viewed Tuesday night's matchup with No. 2 Kansas as just another game.
One that the Gaels planned on winning.
After all, Iona has made two straight NCAA tournaments, and has won at least 20 games in four consecutive seasons. So there was reason for Armand to feel confident, and he had started to look downright prophetic through the first 30 minutes of the game.
Kansas eventually used its superior size and athleticism to wear down the Gaels, and the game started to slip away.
Perry Ellis scored 21 points, Joel Embiid added 16 points and 13 rebounds and the Jayhawks pulled away for an 86-66 victory.
"We didn't come here on vacation," Iona coach Tim Cluess said. "We came to play a great team and give it the best shot we could."
The Gaels (1-2), using a maddening 2-2-1 zone and pouring in 3-pointers, managed to hang within single digits until midway through the second half. That's when Kansas went on a 19-4 surge fueled by its freshmen to finally put the game away.
Andrew Wiggins added 13 points and Naadir Tharpe had 10 assists for the Jayhawks (3-0), who were coming off a high-profile triumph over Duke last week.
"We were kind of worried about them establishing the inside more," Cluess said.
"We struggled on our first couple of possessions (in the second half) and didn't really negate the fast break which is something I thought we did a pretty good job of in the first half. I really thought we gave up too many easy driving lanes."
As for Armand's comments, well, Cluess appreciated the confidence.
"Sean said this: 'Every game we play in we go in to win. This is not going to be any different,"' Cluess said. "We respect Kansas, we know how good they are but if we were here to lose, we shouldn't be playing the game."'
A.J. English scored 21 points for Iona, while David Laury added 13 points and nine rebounds before fouling out.
Armand had 14 points, hitting three 3-pointers to move within three of matching the school's career record of 263.
While the Gaels shot the ball well, they had no answer inside for Ellis and Embiid.
The 6-foot-8 Ellis scored on a variety of nifty spin moves and soft floaters in the lane, while Embiid -- a 7-footer from Cameroon who's only been playing hoops for a few years -- used his massive size advantage to go 7 for 7 from the field.
"He was a monster in there," Cluess said. "I don't think we had the bodies to lean on him that we would have liked too. I think we kind of defensively lost him, which I don't know how."
Iona pumped in six 3-pointers in the first half and shot 45 percent from the field in closing within 41-36 at the break. In fact, the Gaels might have led if not for Ellis, who was 6 of 8 from the field and scored 13 points in the opening half.
"Perry kept us in it early when they could have maybe gotten a little separation," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
The Gaels kept within striking distance with their perimeter shooting early in the second half, much to the chagrin of Self, who kept burning timeouts.
But once the outside shots stopped dropping, the Jayhawks were able to start running -- and use their superior athleticism.
"Watching Kansas for plenty of years, that's what they do," English said.
Tharpe served as the conductor orchestrating the Kansas offense, delivering crisp passes to set up easy baskets. The sophomore guard threw a pretty alley-oop pass to Wiggins to start the second half, and then tossed up another to Embiid on the next possession.
"It gave them a lot of momentum," English said. "The crowd went crazy off of the lobs. Every lob that they caught you could tell that's what the crowd was waiting for."
Kansas finally buried the Gaels with its big run later in the half. Embiid and Ellis did most of the work, but the highlight came when Tharpe threw up another lob -- this time to 5-foot-11 freshman Frank Mason, who showed enough hops to slam it down.
By the time Wayne Selden, another of the Jayhawks' sensational freshmen, scored on a nifty reverse layup with just over 4 minutes to play, the lead had grown to 80-59.
"The key was just defense," Ellis said, "the little things we weren't doing, and we still have to work on that, be more aggressive defensively."