Lawson brothers lead KU to 87-53 win over Northeastern in NCAA Tournament opener
Dedric and K.J. Lawson, roommates at McCarthy Hall in Lawrence and at the Hilton City Center Hotel on this NCAA Tournament road trip to Utah, chatted about their parents and “about life in general” after exiting a team meeting Wednesday night.
Not in the mood for late-night TV, an over-anxious Dedric decided it’d be best to get a good night’s sleep in advance of Thursday’s first-round NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional game between No. 4 seed Kansas and No. 13 seed Northeastern.
“I went to bed kinda early last night, so morning could come faster ... so we could get out there and be part of such a great opportunity,” Dedric Lawson said after erupting for 25 points and 11 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 87-53 rout of the Huskies at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The victory moves KU into Saturday’s second-round contest against Auburn, which will tip off approximately 8:40 p.m. Central time with a broadcast on TBS, with the winner of that game reaching the Sweet 16 on March 29 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“I’m just looking forward to dancing for a long time,” added Lawson, who did not play in the Big Dance during his two seasons at Memphis, but did at least travel with the Jayhawks as a redshirt transfer during last year’s Final Four run.
K.J., who is a year older than Dedric, also making his NCAA debut this postseason, fell asleep Wednesday just a few minutes after his brother hit the hay between “10:30 and 10:45.”
Before closing his eyes, K.J., who scored 13 points against Northeastern — two off his KU career high — caught up on some reading.
He opens his Bible every day.
“You have to be meek and quiet when you take on assignments,” Lawson said, quoting what he read Wednesday night in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-14. “A person unwilling to work does not eat.”
K.J. Lawson was called on to work 23 minutes on Thursday. It’s the second-most minutes he’s played in a game, behind his 24 against West Virginia. He’s played over 20 minutes in just three of KU’s 35 games.
“I just try to stay ready every game,” K.J. said after hitting 6 of 10 shots. He was 1 of 3 from three with three rebounds and two assists. K.J. scored four points in 11 minutes while Dedric went for 16 points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes during the first half as the Jayhawks blazed to a 37-25 lead.
“I’m hoping, but I don’t necessarily know if I’ll play or not. I’m glad I was able to contribute and expand my long period on the floor,” K.J. said.
Dedric Lawson certainly was pleased for his brother.
“He was phenomenal,” Dedric, who played 27 minutes, said of K.J. “He came out aggressive. He attacked when he had it. He made a three. He played great today.”
K.J. said his performance “was OK. I was solid. I feel a greater team performance led to my solid performance. Everybody contributed.”
Of Dedric’s play, K.J. said: “He played like the All-American he is. I didn’t know he had a double-double. It’s what to expect this time of the season.”
KU coach Bill Self said he figured he would use K.J. extensively against Northeastern’s four-guard, one-big lineup — one that likes to fire up threes. The Huskies wound up hitting 6 of 28 three-pointers to KU’s 8 of 22.
“He was on a roll and we were better with him in the game, so it was a natural thing to do,” Self said of playing K.J. Lawson.
Freshman point guard Devon Dotson contributed 18 points with four rebounds and two assists for the Jayhawks (26-9), whose victory over the Huskies (23-11) of the Colonial Athletic Association set up a second-round NCAA contest against No. 5 seed Auburn, a 78-77 winner over No. 12 seed New Mexico State in Thursday’s first game in Salt Lake City.
The Huskies’ leading scorer, Vasa Pusica, finished with seven points on 2 of 13 shooting, including 2 of 6 from three. Jordan Roland led Northeastern with 12 points on 2 of 8 three-point shooting.
“I thought we came into the game with a great mindset and performed pretty well for the most part 40 minutes, defensively especially,” Self said. “I thought our ball screening and switching was better and it eliminated them getting a lot of uncontested looks so they could shoot the ball. It is one game and sets up a game in which we have to be as athletic and as in tune as we’ve been all year playing Auburn.”
Northeastern opened by hitting 3 of its first 6 threes, but made just 2 of its next 11. The Huskies scored the first five points of the second half and it was 37-30 KU with 17:05 left.
After a Self timeout, KU went on an 18-2 run and led 55-32 at 11:07. Dedric Lawson had five straight points in the run — points that followed a three by Quentin Grimes, who would not score again. He scored three points on 1 of 6 shooting (1 of 5 from three).
Also, K.J. Lawson, who had four points in the first half, had four more in that run, which effectively put away Northeastern.
“As a team, we did a great job on defense,” K.J. Lawson said.
And the Lawson brothers did well on offense, combining for 38 of KU’s 87 points. The Jayhawks’ 34-point victory was the team’s biggest in an NCAA Tournament game since a 38-point victory over UC Davis in the 2017 first round in Tulsa, Okla.
“He can do that any night,” KU sophomore Marcus Garrett (eight points, five boards) said of K.J. “He was great. It’s not a surprise to any of us. We know he can do it. I’m just glad he was able to do it. It was great timing,” Garrett added. “It’s March Madness, time to show up.”
To show up after a restful night, he might have added.
Kansas has won its last 13 NCAA Tournament first-round games. … KU is 34-2 in its last 36 NCAA Tournament round of 64 games, beginning in 1981 … KU is 6-1 in neutral-site games … Kansas is 2,274-858 all-time. … Bill Self is 473-105 in 16 seasons at KU and 680-210 in his 26th season overall. … KU is 108-46 all-time in tourney games with 31 Sweet 16 appearances and 15 trips to the Final Four. Kansas is 38-14 in the NCAA Tournament in the 16-year Bill Self era with 10 Sweet 16s, eight Elite Eights, three Final Fours, one NCAA title and one NCAA runner-up finish. … The Jayhawks are 8-4 all-time as a No. 4 seed. … KU is 1-0 all-time against Northeastern and 5-0 all-time versus Colonial Athletic Association teams. … Northeastern fell to 1-22 versus Top 25 teams. … Northeastern is 1-4 versus current members of the Big 12 … KU snapped the Huskies’ seven-game win streak. The Huskies’ last loss had come Feb. 16 vs. College of Charleston, 88-79. … NU fell to 3-9 all-time in the NCAAs with its last win against Long Island in 1984. … Bill Coen is 224-97 in 13 seasons at NU.