LAWRENCE — The circumstances surrounding Billy Preston’s suspension ahead of what should have been his collegiate debut didn’t disappoint Bill Self as much as it baffled him.
Preston, the Kansas basketball freshman forward and former five-star prospect, missed the No. 4-ranked Jayhawks’ season opener, withheld from the lineup for missing Thursday night’s curfew and subsequent Friday classes. During warmups, Preston told Self he missed class Friday because his car was illegally parked, a result of a late return the night before.
The situation left the KU coach, who personally oversaw the team’s curfew, perplexed.
“You know, we were all kids, and our parents, I’m sure, said, ‘Can you believe our kids? I mean, what were they thinking?’ ” Self said. “We had curfew last night and I was with ’em. I fed ’em at 10:30 (p.m.).
Self continued, reiterating his last comment with added emphasis.
“I fed ’em.”
If the Jayhawks missed Preston’s presence, it didn’t show Friday night in a dominant 92-56 steamrolling of Tennessee State at Allen Fieldhouse. While it’s too early to tell how Self’s message will be received by Preston, his Jayhawk teammates heard it loud and clear.
Lagerald Vick scored a game-high 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting, leading six KU (1-0) players who reached double figures. Svi Mykhailiuk (15 points), Udoka Azubuike (12), Malik Newman (12), Devonte’ Graham (10) and Marcus Garrett (10) rounded out the double-digit scorers for the high-octane Jayhawks, who shot 60 percent from the field.
The performance came just three days after a preseason finale in which Self lamented the team’s lack of activity and aggressiveness and said, outside of shooting, he wasn’t sure what this year’s squad does well. Against the Tigers (0-1), KU finished with eight steals, seven blocked shots and a plus-22 rebounding advantage, all of which aided an offensive attack that made its first nine field-goal attempts of the game.
“I thought we played pretty well the first half,” Self said. “I thought we shared it, defended decent, rebounded it decent. You know, you look better when you make shots, and we obviously got on a roll there in the first half, but I thought we played pretty well.”
KU made 21 of 30 shot attempts in the first half en route to a 29-point halftime advantage.
Self said he was pleased with the Jayhawks’ ball movement and aggressiveness, particularly in the opening 20 minutes and especially on the heels of Tuesday’s dud against Fort Hays State.
“I thought we tried to score,” Self said. “Sometimes you just move the ball to move the ball as opposed to moving it with a purpose to try to get people on their heels. I thought we got the ball downhill and forced help. It looks better when you make shots, but I did — I thought we moved the ball pretty well the first half, and I thought we got out and ran and looked like a decent offensive team.”
Everyone played a role early for the undermanned Jayhawks.
The freshman guard Garrett, who started in place of the sophomore Newman, made all four of his first-half shot attempts with a pair of and-1 conversions along the way. Svi Mykhailiuk rebounded from an ice-cold preseason with three 3-pointers in the opening period. The six-foot-2 senior guard Graham dunked.
All told, four Jayhawks reached double-digit scoring in the first half alone.
Even KU’s first miss of the evening — a Newman layup at the 12:23 mark — was finished in style, when Garrett flew in and cleaned up a subsequent put-back miss by Vick with a put-back of his own that gave the Jayhawks a 27-7 advantage.
“I felt like I got off to a terrific start, especially with all the guys shooting the ball well,” said Garrett, who also had 10 rebounds for a double-double in 29 minutes played. “I feel like it made it really easy on me.”
Tennessee State appeared shell-shocked from the moment guard A.C. Reid put up the first of several airballs on the evening on the visiting team’s first possession — and the Tigers didn’t catch any breaks, either. At one point in the opening half, a Garrett pass inside to Azubuike bounced off the fingertips of the 7-foot center and a defender … and into the basket for a “layup,” the first example of so-called “Allen Fieldhouse magic” of the new season.
“I don’t know what that was,” Garrett said of the play. “Probably God.”
By the time Graham found a wide-open Mykhailiuk under the basket with a lightning-quick, no-look, half-court pass that had the senior leader saying “ooh” and Tennessee State needing a timeout, the Jayhawks had built a 66-28 second-half lead just three-plus minutes into the period.
It was one of 12 assists for Graham — five more than the Tigers had as a team.
“He didn’t score the second half and he dominated the game still,” Self said of Graham. “So, yeah, he played well. I know Lagerald scored the points, but Devonte’ controlled the game. Certainly he’s a good guard. He’s a really good guard.”
It was smooth sailing from there for KU.
Newman finished 5-for-8 shooting in 24 minutes. Self said the decision to bring Newman off the bench was the result of a poor practice Thursday and added the sophomore could return to the starting lineup as soon as Game 2.
“It wasn’t really a knock to Malik,” Self said, “but we’ve certainly got to get better defensively and things.”
Without Preston, the Jayhawks were left with two frontcourt players — Azubuike and sophomore Mitch Lightfoot, who combined for 19 points and 11 rebounds. Self said the only adjustment he made without the 6-10 freshman was trying not to play his two remaining bigs at the same time in an effort to limit potential foul troubles.
Self said Preston will return for the team’s next game, an 8:30 p.m. Tuesday matchup with No. 5 Kentucky at Chicago in the Champions Classic.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Self said. “Just take care of your business — but he needs to take care of his business. Everybody needs to be responsible.”