LAWRENCE — There was nothing premature about Marcus Garrett’s celebration.
Raising his arms into the air as teammate Devon Dotson launched a successful 3-point attempt early in the first half of Tuesday night’s game against Milwaukee, the Kansas basketball junior guard could have very well been toasting to a lot more with the gesture — like the game’s outcome, for starters.
“It was money,” Garrett later recalled of Dotson's shot. “It looked good. ... I knew he was feeling it the way he shot it so fast. I was ready to celebrate.”
Truth is, as much as Dotson was "feeling it" in the game's opening 15 minutes, the same could be said of everyone who took the court donned in home whites.
The No. 2-ranked Jayhawks pummeled the Panthers 95-68 at Allen Fieldhouse, capping a decade of action inside “The Phog” with a 151st victory in 158 tries. A 26-point favorite, KU more than lived up to that hefty line — the Jayhawks held Milwaukee without a field goal for the game’s first five minutes, capturing a 17-1 advantage before the Panthers could even settle in.
"That’s the thing: I feel like we feel like that every game," Garrett said of KU's confidence early on. "It’s just sometimes it doesn’t show because shots don’t fall.”
Dotson and Ochai Agbaji each scored 22 points to pace KU, which also got 15 points and 17 rebounds from senior center Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks (8-1) hit 12 of 28 tries from 3-point range, shot 54.2 percent overall and out-rebounded the Panthers 45-27 in the victory.
“Just one of those nights,” Agbaji said. “Shots falling early. Energy gets picked up on the defensive end. We see shots go in and we’re getting stops on the other end — that’s always going to get us off to a good start.”
Agbaji said KU head coach Bill Self told the players in an early huddle that it was one of the best starts to a game that this group had authored.
“I thought we were really good early,” Self said. “It was 15-1 before you could basically sit down. ... We made shots, and of course everything looks better when you make shots, but we guarded too. After that it was a trade-baskets-type game, but I thought we looked pretty good. We shared it pretty well and everything was pretty good.”
An fully faceted effort led to KU’s staggering 25-point halftime lead.
Agbaji hit three 3s in the game’s opening minutes to create a 11-0 edge. The Panthers (5-5) got on the board with a free-throw make, but a layup by Azubuike and a pair of buckets by David McCormack — the frontcourt duo helped the Jayhawks earn a 29-9 advantage in rebounding in the opening period — pushed the lead to 17-1.
Harrison Henderson’s trey finally gave Milwaukee its first field goal make with 15:09 left in the opening half, but on the next trip down the court, Dotson uncorked his first of three first-half 3s. It was Dotson drilling a 3 again — this time with the usually reserved Garrett raising both fists in the air from the top of the key before the ball even left the sophomore point guard’s hands — that made the home squad’s advantage 23-4.
The fun wasn’t over just yet.
KU reeled off another double-digit run later in the half, this time a 15-0 rally that saw bench players Isaiah Moss and Christian Braun hit 3-pointers and Garrett cap the stretch with a steal and layup that pushed the lead to 40-12. When the dominant 20-minute stretch was over, KU had shot 54.3 percent in the opening half and 47.1 percent from 3-point range with eight made treys, with Dotson's 17 points leading the way en route to a 52-27 lead at the intermission.
The result was all but academic in the second half, but the period wasn’t without at least one moment sure to find its way to the season-ending highlight reel.
With KU up 64-41 and a little under 13 minutes left to play, Dotson launched a lob pass from just inside half court and connected with a soaring Agbaji, who flushed it through for a spectacular reverse dunk that brought the justifiably zoned-out Jayhawk faithful to their feet.
“That hyped me up a lot,” said Dotson, who finished with nine assists. “I saw (the replay) on the jumbotron or whatever. Yeah, pretty cool.”
Agbaji acknowledged he didn’t have to finish the dunk reverse-style.
“I just wanted to put some style on it,” said Agbaji, who finished with five made 3s. “I kind of just jumped and I was like, ‘Dang, I might as well.’ ”
Milwaukee was paced by senior guard Darius Roy’s 25 points.
“Obviously second half we just traded baskets for a while,” Self said. “I didn’t think we played very well really after the first 15 minutes, but we were really good the first 15 minutes, though.”
KU returns to action at 4 p.m. Saturday against UMKC at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., but doesn’t return to Allen Fieldhouse until 2020 — road trips at Villanova (11 a.m. Dec. 21) and Stanford (2 p.m. Dec. 29) predate a Big 12 opener against West Virginia on Jan. 4 in Lawrence.
With top-ranked Louisville's 70-57 defeat Tuesday night to unranked Texas Tech, a new No. 1 position in the polls could await the Jayhawks come next week. KU was ranked third in the preseason poll, fell to fourth after a season-opening defeat to then-No. 4 Duke, then rose to No. 2 after its successful run through the three-game Maui Invitational.
Self said he wasn’t so sure the Jayhawks would be the team to rise to the top spot in the polls, citing undefeated Ohio State as another contender. Still, if KU does climb to No. 1, Self appears eager to see how his squad would react to such a label.
“I don’t think being No. 1 is exactly where anybody really wants to be, because they haven’t stayed there very long. But I would certainly welcome it with our program,” Self said. “I think any time you can do that (it’s good) — of course ... if you do it in January or February, it’s far better than now. Even March would be the ideal time to do it. ...
“We’ll be in the discussion if we take care of business (Saturday), but I think this early in the season it really doesn’t matter much.”