Try as they might, the Jayhawks couldn’t avoid the day’s real story -- recently troubled junior forward C.J. Giles dismissal -- afterwards. He wouldn’t use it as an excuse for his team’s slow start, but head coach Bill Self admitted that the distraction caused by Giles dismissal played a role.
“It was a day of multiple distractions,” said Self. “I don’t want to use that as an excuse but I think that doesn’t help the situation. The whole time during shoot around we’re talking about things that don’t have to do with basketball.”
That lack of focus was apparent in the first half as KU struggled to create much separation from their Division 2 opponents. By forcing nine turnovers that led to 18 points and shooting 51.6% from the field, Emporia State was able to stay close and only trailed 41-37 after the first half.
The play of Hornets junior guard DeAndre Townsend who scored 13 first half points was a big factor.
“Number 31 (Townsend) was the best player in the first half by far,” said Self. “He was a lot better than anyone in the game.”
That isn’t to say that there weren’t some bright spots for the Jayhawks during the first half. Stepping in for injured sophomore guard Mario Chalmers (toe), Chicago freshman Sherron Collins scored eight of his game high 20 points and dished out a pair of assists. Also playing well early was sophomore forward Julian Wright who scored eight of his ten points and grabbed eight of his game high 14 rebounds.
“I think I was even more nervous than the first game because I just found out I was starting yesterday,” said Collins. “I just wanted to go out there and do my job.”
Self was pleased with how his young guard reacted but still saw plenty of room for improvement.
"I thought he was pretty good. Most people equate good with points -- coaches do too, to an extent. But he didn't guard his man away from the ball. There are a lot of things he can learn,” said Self of his freshman point guard. “We won't dwell on the 20 points, although if he goes 4-for-7 most nights I'm going to think he's playing pretty good. He had a nice game, don't get me wrong. I don't think we should be setting off fireworks because defensively he has to be better."
Not playing so well was sophomore Brandon Rush. In fact Rush walked into the locker room at half time to see “Press Clippings” written on the board in a reference to him having been named pre-season AP All-American earlier in the day.
However, Rush didn’t even know he’d received the honor.
"I didn't know that until halftime. At halftime coach told the whole team,” said Rush. “He thought that was the reason I came out and played the way I did.”
Despite not knowing of the honor, Rush didn’t disagree with Self’s assessment of his play.
“I thought I played terribly the first half,” echoed Rush.
After the intermission -- and a thorough chewing from Self -- the Jayhawks got their act together and blitzed Emporia State while holding the Hornets to just 16.7% shooting and forcing 13 turnovers. Kansas also benefited from a 27-2 run from between the 15:40 and 5:43 marks of the second half that was started by a three point play from Rush and finished with two Roderick Stewart free throws.
With the pre-season over, the Jayhawks can now concentrate on the regular season and their opener Saturday night against Northern Arizona.
EMPORIA STATE GAME QUOTABLES
On Brandon Rush’s poor outing:
“He didn’t prepare to play today like he normally would and I think that’s why he struggled a majority game. I didn’t feel like he was as into as what he normally would be. I think it’s because he’s human. You know Brady, he didn’t play as good the other night against Payton and sometimes guys don’t play as well. There’s that fine line that you’re not at that magic level where enthusiasm and energy and focus doesn’t come together to give you the best chance to compete at the highest level.”
On the team’s reaction to Giles dismissal:
“They know, so there was not much feedback at all. By the time that I spoke with them around 2:30 or 2:15 something like that when I saw them all together for the first time, they were already aware that there was a situation.”
On his disappointment with Giles:
“I would be disappointed in anybody that has potential and so many people wanting to help him, basically anybody that would drop the ball and for whatever reasons not be able to focus and take care of his business in an appropriate way. So that’s disappointing. But, also we’re dealing with young people and people make poor decisions and mistakes.”
“The thing that’s more frustrating with this is the fact that we’ve been through enough with him, and he was very aware of his situation, that you could even put yourself even remotely in that situation. You’ve got to be able to remove yourself from that and we had talked about numerous situations with him and all of our team very recently. So that’s frustrating that for whatever reason he did not remove himself form a potentially negative situation and it turned out to be negative.”
“The thing I would like to say about it is that I don’t think it’s right to ever say that a player is dismissed without having all the facts. Because I don’t know the facts, so don’t read into it that that’s the reason he’s dismissed. The reason CJ is dismissed is because this is a continuing pattern that he’s demonstrated poor judgment and lack of responsibility so I’m not judge and jury and I’m not pretending to be. The incident is very serious because you should never ever put yourself in that situation and if what is said is true then obviously he made a bad wrong. I almost feel like judge and jury is after the fact, but as soon as I got word of it this morning I knew this was going to happen.”