SALT LAKE CITY — Kansas assistant coach Norm Townsend watched as K.J. Lawson entered the KU locker room following the Jayhawks' 87-53 dismantling of Northeastern and was quickly surrounded by cameras, microphones and an occasional tape recorder.
Lawson's first NCAA Tournament game had been a success, with the 6-foot-8 sophomore scoring 13 points off the bench in nearly 23 minutes at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Those may be pedestrian numbers for the other Lawson — brother Dedric, who finished with his usual double-double, 25 points and 11 rebounds — but they produced arguably K.J.'s best game in a Jayhawk uniform.
"We need to bring mom and dad to games more often," said Townsend, putting a wry smile on Lawson's usual stoic face.
For the record, Keelon and Dedra Lawson have now seen their sons play just twice this season, so Thursday was a red-letter day for the family. They will get another opportunity Saturday, when the Jayhawks match up with Auburn in a second-round Midwest Regional game.
K.J. finished with 6-of-10 shooting from the field, knocked down a 3-pointer, grabbed three rebounds and added two assists and a blocked shot.
"He definitely came out aggressive," Dedric said of his brother. "He played defense. He got some rebounds early. He played great tonight. We need everyone to step up, and tonight was his calling.
"It was very special for him to go out there and produce at such a high level. Coach gave him the opportunity early and put him in, and he did good with it."
The 13 points marked just the third time K.J. has scored in double figures this season. The six field goals and 10 attempts were both season-highs, and the 22 minutes, 53 seconds on the court has been topped only once. He was also a plus-36 in the final box score. No player on either team had a better plus/minus total.
"I didn't anticipate spreading the minutes out like we did," KU coach Bill Self said. "But, he was on a roll and we were better with him in the game, so it was a natural thing to do."
Lawson scored nine points during the Jayhawks' monster, 32-6 second-half run that lasted nearly 10 minutes. It turned a seven-point game into a 33-point blowout, as KU improved to 26-9 for the season, the 12th time in the last 13 years the Jayhawks have won that many games.
"I think I had a solid performance, but as a team everyone played great," K.J. said. "Everyone was assertive going downhill; everyone was in an attack mode today. It just felt great to have a solid game and contribute to a win in my first tournament game.
"I was just playing basketball out there, trying to have fun and execute the game plan Coach Self put out there."
Lawson led the charge off the bench, but wasn't the only Jayhawk player who produced. Marcus Garrett had eight points, five rebounds and played lights-out defense in 18 minutes, while Mitch Lightfoot had five points and seven boards in 13 minutes.
"I thought we all contributed well," Lightfoot said. "We had some balance all across the board."
But, it was K.J.'s night.
"He's just so smooth, getting downhill, scoring," Lightfoot added. "There's a lot of things he can do that helps our team."
"He was aggressive from the start, offensively and defensively," freshman Ochai Agbaji said. "He just got it going, and when we have him going like that, it's always good."
Next up is SEC Tournament champion Auburn.
"We just need to prepare the right way and go into the game and have fun," K.J. said. "We know it's going to be a heavyweight battle. We know Auburn is capable of beating us, and we have to come prepared and be ready to play."