LAWRENCE — The key to the Kansas basketball team’s staggering early season offensive success, Malik Newman says, is simple. Really, it boils down to just one thing.
“It’s very important because at the end of the day if I’m jealous of Devonte’ (Graham) and Devonte’ is jealous of Lagerald (Vick), we can’t come together and have fun,” said Newman, the Jayhawks’ sophomore guard. “At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about, having fun and competing. I think that’s the reason we can go on runs, win games and close out games.”
All three of those aspects were on full display Tuesday for the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks.
KU (6-0) throttled Toledo, 96-58, to earn its fifth victory this season to come by at least a 34-point margin. A 32-3 first-half run put the game out of reach in a period where KU made 24 of 32 — or 75 percent — of its field goal attempts.
Though against admittedly overmatched opponents, the Jayhawks have won their games by an average of 33 points and have held 29-point halftime leads in three of their last four contests. The lone exception? A 36-point advantage at the half in a record-breaking victory Nov. 21 over Texas Southern.
Newman, who had a season-high 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting against the Rockets, tied it all back to unselfish play, making the extra pass and emphasizing open looks.
“We’re all great shooters,” Newman said. “All of us, from a guard standpoint, we can put the ball on the floor, we can shoot it, we can make a play for ourselves or for others. Like coach (Bill Self) always says, ‘The guy that’s rolling is the open guy.’ ”
It certainly appears that way this season.
Four Jayhawks are averaging at least 15 points, none higher than Svi Mykhailiuk’s 18.2 points per game. Udoka Azubuike (16 points per game), Graham (15.8) and Vick (15.8) are near the top, while Newman (13.5) isn’t far behind.
“I thought we did some really nice things,” Self said of the KU offense against Toledo.
“Our shot selection was pretty good. I think you can count on one hand the number of marginal shots we took.”
And it’s not just shot selection that has been on-point.
Led by Graham’s 8.5 assists per game, the Jayhawks are averaging 20 assists per contest as a team. That’s the fifth-highest total in the nation and, if it holds, would be the highest mark of Self’s 15-year tenure at KU, besting three seasons where the team reached 18 assists per game.
Graham, who had a career-high 35 points on 14-for-19 shooting Tuesday, said the team’s chemistry has played a big role in the unselfish play.
“When you’ve got guys that don’t want to play with each other, a lot of drama and stuff like that, you play bad,” Graham said. “But this team, we don’t got a lot of drama. We love each other and spend all our time with each other. It’s just reflecting on the court.”
The Jayhawks are also fourth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.82), another number buoyed by the senior point guard Graham, who had five assists and no turnovers against the Rockets. He admitted those two statistics are the first that command his attention on the postgame box score.
“I checked that,” Graham said. “I always ask how many turnovers I’ve got during the course of the game. That’s one thing I do ask about. I don’t really ask about points and stuff like that.”
While the road will begin to toughen as soon as this weekend — KU has a 4:30 p.m. Saturday clash with undefeated Syracuse (6-0) in Miami up next — Graham indicated the jaw-dropping offensive pace should be sustainable if KU remains focused on the right things.
“We’re all unselfish,” Graham said. “When you’re playing unselfish with the right attitude, good things happen. It just runs through us.”