ST. LOUIS - Rock chalk? Heading into their second-round NCAA Tournament opener against 15th-seeded Eastern Kentucky, the second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks understood the early days of March Madness had done everything but go according to chalk.
There were upsets galore on Thursday by the likes of Dayton, Harvard and North Dakota State. Manhattan came close to knocking off defending national champ Louisville and even No. 1 Florida struggled with Albany.
Then, as Kansas waited to take the court Friday against an unconventional team that fires up threes like cheerleaders pumping T-shirts into the crowd with an air gun, the Jayhawks saw mighty Duke go down to Mercer.
"Yeah, I watched the Duke game," guard Conner Frankamp said. "In the NCAA, anything can happen. Every team is going to give us their best shot, so our main focus is to come out ready from the jump."
Oops. Eastern Kentucky jumped to a nine-point lead as Glenn Cosey hit four early three-pointers, and the Colonels led by three after Jeff Johnson buried another long bomb with 9:13 left. But Kansas did what Duke failed to do. The Jayhawks pulled it together in the clutch for an 80-69 victory at Scottrade Center.
Forward Perry Ellis said the Jayhawks learned from the Duke game. "We definitely were watching it and talking amongst each other, saying we have to come out and play aggressive. And when bad things happen, we just have to regroup and play a lot better."
That's often easier said than done, and the Jayhawks had to show patience and commitment to pounding the ball inside to win a wonderfully wild and strange game with the Colonels. The Big 12 champs were outscored from three-point range, 36-0, as EKU made 12 threes and hoisted 31 of them.
Cosey and his teammates were inspired by Mercer's example. "I did see that game, and it gave me a lot of confidence coming into this game because anything is possible," Cosey said. "I feel like it was the year to upset and we could have pulled this one off. Unfortunately, we didn't."
But while Cosey (17 points) and Tarius Johnson (15) filled it up from outside and got 15 points from big man Eric Stutz, the bigger Jayhawks out-rebounded the Colonels by a ridiculous 43-19 margin, dominated points in the paint, 54-20, and shot 60.4 percent to 38.6 for EKU.