LAWRENCE — After playing hero late in Saturday night’s narrow victory at Nebraska, Svi Mykhailiuk took to social media with a simple message.
“And we back,” the Kansas senior guard tweeted from the team bus. “Rock Chalk!”
In Monday night’s follow-up performance, he played hero again — although this time the sharpshooter wasn’t waiting until the final 21 seconds to step into that role.
Mykhailiuk finished with a game-high 26 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including a 6-for-7 effort from 3-point range, as the No. 14-ranked Jayhawks routed overmatched Omaha, 109-64. The victory ended the 2017 slate at Allen Fieldhouse on a high note following the sour ending to the team’s last home contest, a double-digit defeat to Arizona State.
For Mykhailiuk, who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of KU’s eventual 73-72 victory over the Cornhuskers but finished that contest 6-for-16 shooting with two treys, Monday’s far better showing can be easily explained.
“There was no difference,” Mykhailiuk said. “I just didn’t make shots (against Nebraska). That’s what it is.”
Including the Nebraska outing, Mykhailiuk had gone 12 for 42 from the field over the Jayhawks’ previous three games. Still, it was a stretch he said didn’t cause his confidence to waver.
“Everybody has bad games, everybody has good games,” Mykhailiuk said. “The last three games I didn’t shoot very well. Today I shot well. Basketball is ups and downs.”
Asked about his “we’re back” tweet, Mykhailiuk instead pivoted to what KU coach Bill Self always tells the team about knocking down open shots.
“It’s fool’s gold,” Mykhailiuk said of Self’s message. “The main point is we’ve got to guard all the time even if we don’t make shots. We’ve just got to make them play bad.”
Mykhailiuk’s thoughts on the “fool’s gold” sentiment?
“I mean, it’s probably true,” Mykhailiuk said with a laugh. “If you don’t miss it’s hard to guard, but sometimes you have days where you don’t make shots, so you’ve just got to guard and make the other team play bad.”
Mykhailiuk didn’t have to worry about having any such day against the Mavericks. That much was clear from the opening minutes.
He scored nine of the first 17 points for the Jayhawks (9-2), who got double-digit scoring efforts from other starters Devonte’ Graham (17 points), Lagerald Vick (15), Malik Newman (14) and Udoka Azubuike (11 points, 12 rebounds).
While he didn’t entirely see Mykhailiuk’s scoring outburst on the horizon, Self said he did anticipate a more confident player after Saturday.
“When the ball goes in, obviously you look good,” Self said. “I thought his balance and things probably may have been a little hesitant over the last couple weeks or whatnot, but yeah, he looked good. I’m sure that shot at Nebraska probably gave him some confidence.”
An 11-0 run to close the first half and a 7-0 stretch to start the second ensured a breezy finish for the Jayhawks.
KU made 10 of its 14 3-point attempts in the opening period — part of a 16-for-27 shooting performance from beyond the arc — and entered the break with a 55-29 advantage. A wide-open trey from Sam Cunliffe kick-started the half-closing run, with Mykhailiuk and Graham also adding 3s in the stretch.
The train didn’t stop rolling at the break.
The Jayhawks extended the stretch to 18-0 overall with the fast second-half start, taking a 33-point lead before the Mavericks’ first bucket of the period. KU reached the century mark on a Newman 3-pointer with 3:53 that elicited a roar from the crowd and a sent a wave of walk-ons and reserves onto the court.
The former Arizona State transfer Cunliffe, playing in his second game since becoming eligible Saturday but his first with meaningful minutes, flashed his athleticism on his first bucket as a Jayhawk. With just over 10 minutes left in the opening half, Graham set the sophomore guard up with a high lob pass that Cunliffe finished off with a high-flying dunk.
Cunliffe, whose driving layup capped a 14-0 run in the second half and gave KU a 89-50 edge, finished with nine points in 20 minutes.
“To be honest with you, I kind of imagined it being a 3, the first (field goal), but I always knew if I just got out and ran, somebody would throw it,” Cunliffe said. “I just tried those first couple possessions I was in to sprint ahead and get in front of everybody and see if I could get lucky, and Devonte’ happened to throw it, so it felt good.”
The contest also marked the in-game debut of walk-on James Sosinski, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward who was part of the KU football team last season.
Sosinski, who checked in with 3:40 to play and the Jayhawks up 48, officially joined the basketball team Dec. 6 when he suited up for KU’s game against Washington. He scored his first points in a KU uniform on a layup over a defender with 2:26 to play Monday and added a put-back to finish with four points.
“It was great,” Sosinski said of his debut. “I mean, I was the only person on the team not to play yet, so it was good to get that off my back. (The points) are a plus for sure. I’m just happy I didn’t mess up too bad.”
The Mavericks (3-11) were paced by Daniel Norl’s 13 points but shot only 33.3 percent from the field in the contest, played just a day after a Sunday afternoon game set up on a scheduling snafu caused by their home arena being unavailable Saturday.
“We had to have the game. We just had to have the game. It was the only time we could schedule it,” Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said of the Sunday tilt. “We scheduled it. It wasn’t perfect. I’m not saying we would’ve beat KU if we would’ve played on Saturday.”
The Jayhawks were once again without freshman forward Billy Preston, who has yet to make his collegiate debut and has been withheld the last 10 games as the school’s compliance department seeks to resolve questions regarding an automobile the former five-star prospect was driving at the time of a Nov. 11 single-vehicle accident on campus.
Self had no updates to provide on the statuses of Preston nor Class of 2018 five-star forward Silvio De Sousa, who is attempting to become eligible early and join the Jayhawks for the second semester, but the coach did say he feels “really good” about a standardized test De Sousa needed to pass recently in the eligibility process.
KU returns to action at 10 p.m. Thursday against Stanford at Golden 1 Center in Sacremento, Calif. The game represents the Jayhawks’ last before the holiday break and before Big 12 play begins with an 8 p.m. Dec. 29 contest at Texas.
Don’t expect any more newsworthy tweets from Mykhailiuk before the matchup with the Cardinal.
“Ah, no,” Mykhailiuk said with a grin.