With 16:49 left on the clock in the first half Monday night, one could feel that this was going to be a good game for the Kansas Jayhawks.
Why? It's simple. Kansas struggled mightily to connect from deep in its two exhibition games and Friday's season-opening victory over Longwood University. But when Travis Releford's bomb ripped the cords 49 seconds before the first media time out, he was the third Jayhawk to drill a three-pointer in little more than three minutes of play.
Releford's shot put Kansas up 10-4, and Head Coach Bill Self's squad never looked back, cruising to a 79-44 victory over mid-major darling Valparaiso University.
"We're disappointed that we didn't play better early tonight," said Crusaders head coach Homer Drew, father of Baylor head coach Scott Drew. "I think you have to compliment KU – their speed really hurt us in transition early."
Indeed, the Jayhawks used hot shooting from the outside to build a quick lead, but it was defense and athleticism that allowed them to blow the game open.
With starting forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris frustrated by Valparaiso's quickness on the boards early, sophomore power forward Thomas Robinson provided an instant rebounding boost off the bench in the first half – and his energy proved infectious.
"I thought Thomas was good," Self said after the game. "I thought he played better tonight than he did the other night. He went after the ball with two hands. There were two loose balls in the first half that he had no business getting, but he just went and he took it."
All three of Kansas' posts – the Twins and Robinson – ended up with double-digit rebounds on the night. Markieff Morris paced the group with 13, but Marcus Morris tacked on 11 of his own and Robinson added seven.
As he is expected to many times this season, however, Marcus stole the show offensively for the Jayhawks. With the team firing on all cylinders – hitting shots from range, getting buckets in the paint and creating easy opportunities in transition with steals – the pre-season first-team All-Big 12 big man was the key cog in the Kansas machine.
He was efficient from the field, hitting 10-of-12 shots and 1-2 from three, he rebounded well and dished out four assists to just one turnover.
"I think I got into a rhythm early and just made shots," Morris said after the game. "My teammates helped me and they were able to get rebounds and finish it when I missed."
No. 22 led all scorers on the night with 22 points, followed by Markieff Morris with 12 and Reed with 11. Both Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor added eight points of their own, with Tyshawn contributing five assists to one turnover.
Forwards Cory Johnson and Kevin Van Wijk led the Crusaders with 10 points apiece.
Next up for the Jayhawks? The University of North Texas in a Friday night tilt at Allen Fieldhouse.
"They're athletic," Self said, of the Mean Green, who hail from Denton, Texas. "I thought they played K-State pretty good in the first round last year. I think K-State ended up getting them by about 20 if I'm not mistaken, but their guards are really good. They can score off the bounce."