Perry Ellis has showed early this season that he needs to be involved offensively for the Jayhawks to win games.
In Kansas' three losses to Villanova, Colorado and Florida, Ellis has averaged just 5.7 shot attempts and averaged only 8.3 points. But in Kansas' seven victories, the 6-8 sophomore forward has averaged 10 field goal attempts and doubled his scoring average to 16.6 points per game.
After coming off a loss at Florida on Dec. 10 where Ellis took only three shots and scored a season-low four points, he rebounded in style with a team-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting in KU's 80-63 victory over New Mexico Saturday night at Sprint Center in Kansas City. Ellis scored 13 of his points, including a three-pointer, after halftime as KU outscored the Lobos 41-25 the final 20 minutes.
Ellis also added a game-high nine rebounds, plus a block and steal in 31 minutes.
"It was great," Ellis said about his bounce-back game. "I just went into practice with a positive mindset and kept working. I knew eventually good things would happen and tried to continue playing hard."
Ellis, who is second on the team in scoring (14.1 ppg) and the top rebounder (6.7 rpg), must continue to be a focal part of the team's offense, along with freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who scored a career-high 18 points against the Lobos, including 16 after halftime.
Ellis, who said he needs to work on his defense, is a dangerous offensive threat (he's shooting 60.9 percent from the field) who can score inside and out. It's almost a shock when he misses a shot.
New Mexico coach Craig Neal praised his game after his team's setback.
"He's really improved," Neal said. "He's playing with extreme confidence. He's very talented. He made some jump shots and made some plays. I like how hard he plays. I think he's very knowledgeable of the game."
After two straight losses, Ellis was just glad to help the Jayhawks (7-3) get back on the winning track at Sprint Center.
"It was great to come out here and get the win," Ellis said. "It was pretty close to Lawrence (and we) had a lot of support with us, too. It was great to get that win off those losses."
It certainly wasn't easy with KU leading just 39-38 at halftime. KU pulled away, though, in the second half with arguably its best 20 minutes of the year. The Jayhawks shot 53.8 percent after halftime while holding the Lobos to just 27.3 percent shooting.
"We definitely played good defense and got out in transition and got easy buckets, so I would say it was one of our better halves," said Ellis, who came up big in KU's pivotal second-half run.
After the Lobos cut the lead to 60-54 with 10:02 remaining, Ellis scored six of KU's next 12 points with his last bucket a dunk off a feed from Naadir Tharpe, which put the ‘Hawks up 72-59 with 5:41 remaining as the crowd rocked the Sprint Center and forced New Mexico to call a 30-second timeout.
The game was all but over, thanks to Ellis and emerging star Embiid. While KU has the freshman phenom Wiggins (he struggled against New Mexico with just 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting), Ellis needs to average at least 10 shots per game and continue being a go-to guy the rest of the season if KU is to fulfill its potential and become a championship team.