INDIANAPOLIS — All-Americans Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are gone, but if Kansas basketball’s first game without either since the 2012-13 season is any indication, the Jayhawk backcourt is in capable hands.
The Jayhawks as a team, though, may have more questions than answers after Tuesday night's performance.
Quentin Grimes scored 21 points and went 6-for-10 from 3-point range, Devon Dotson pitched in 16 points, and the debuting freshman duo helped the new-look and top-ranked Jayhawks to a 92-87 victory over Michigan State in the season opener at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The win represented KU’s third straight at the Champions Classic and first against the Spartans in three tries at the annual high-profile event.
It wasn’t easy.
Grimes was electric early, connecting on six of his first seven 3-point attempts to give the Jayhawks (1-0) a 14-point lead with 15:37 left to play. A former five-star recruit out of The Woodlands, Texas, Grimes turned heads in high school with his freakish athleticism but faced questions about his shooting capabilities at the collegiate level.
For one night, at least, the potential one-and-done prospect showed he’s more than capable on the offensive end. His sixth 3-pointer came in the corner and in front of the KU bench, and the 6-foot-5, 210-pound two-guard appeared to relish the moment, holding his shooting follow-through for a few seconds in admiration.
Dotson, meanwhile, went 6 for 11 from the field. Another former five-star recruit, Dotson flashed his dynamic speed at several instances in the victory, including a steal and driving layup that capped a 12-1 first-half run that ballooned the Jayhawk lead to 30-17. He finished with three made 3-pointers, the first coming on an assist from Grimes, whom Dotson pointed to in appreciation after the successful dish.
Dotson and Grimes both drew starts in the tilt but had plenty of help from their fellow Jayhawks. Depth-starved last season in a campaign that nevertheless ended in a Final Four berth, KU rolled out 10 players in the first half Tuesday and each scored en route to a 50-36 lead at the break.
The Spartans (0-1) made it interesting late in the second half, cutting the once-17-point KU lead to eight with 5:39 to play. But a three-point play by Udoka Azubuike — yes, he made the free-throw attempt — set off a personal streak of six straight team points for the junior center, who finished with 17 points, four blocked shots but just three rebounds.
Later, trailing by seven with 2:47 to play, Michigan State sent Azubuike back to the free-throw line, where he hit one of his two attempts. The teams traded empty possessions until a put-back layup by MSU’s Kenny Goins cut the deficit to six with 78 seconds remaining.
The “poke-a-Doke” strategy returned when MSU with 53 seconds left again sent Azubuike to the free-throw line, where he missed both attempts. A Kyle Ahrens 3-point make with 34 seconds left cut the KU lead to three, 90-87, but Dotson made a free-throw on the other end with 15 seconds remaining, and MSU’s Cassius Winston missed an attempted layup on the other end.
Lagerald Vick grabbed the defensive rebound, and Grimes hit a free throw with 3.8 seconds left to finish off the eke-it-out victory. All told, KU hit just 20 of its 33 free-throw attempts, a 60.6-percent clip.
KU's Dedric Lawson finished with 20 points, but it came on a 5-for-18 shooting performance. However, he made 10 of his 12 free-throw attempts, hauled in 14 rebounds and had a team-high six assists.
Joshua Langford led Michigan State with 18 points.
KU continues its season with an 8 p.m. Monday contest against Vermont at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.