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Kansas' second-half rally dispatches Eastern Washington

10-point lead turns to 12-point deficit in 93-84 Jayhawks’ tournament victory

INDIANAPOLIS — The ebb and flow, floods and drought found in the game of basketball are arguably unique in the sports world.

And it was one of those things — a 25-7 stretch of the second half by the Kansas Jayhawks — that drown out Eastern Washington’s chances in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind., March 20 at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.

The No. 13 seeded Eagles, who led right from the tip 9-0 and then as late as by 10 points — 52-42 on a Tanner Groves bucket with 17 minutes, 58 seconds to play — fell to No. 4 Kansas 93-84. The stats will tell the Eagles led for the most time, 20:47 to 18:07 but the No. 12 ranked Jayhawks did so when it counted most.

“I don’t believe in moral victories, but today was one of those times where I told the team this was a moral victory for them,” Shantay Legans, now former Eastern head coach, said. “They played amazing, great and hard, and played toe-to-toe with one of the best programs in the county.”

On March 22 it was announced that Legans, who spent four seasons as EWU head coach and 12 with the program, had accepted an offer to become the new head coach of the West Coast Conference University of Portland Pilots.

In a game played very evenly in so many ways the deciding difference seemed to rest in two areas.

While the Eagles held a slim edge in field goal shooting, 50-48 and were equal on the boards with 33 each, where the difference came was the Jayhawks’ 10-5 edge in offensive rebounds and Eastern committing 13 turnovers to Kansas’ six. That gave the Jayhawks a 13-2 advantage in second-chance points and a 12-7 edge in points off of turnovers.

The Spokane-grown Groves brothers, junior Tanner and sophomore Jacob, had breakout games viewed by a national audience, and talked up regularly by the play-by-play voices.

Tanner Groves had a career-high 35 points while Jacob Groves also had career highs with 23 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore Michael Meadows, scored 12 points and had a career-high eight assists and were the only Eagles in double figures.

Eastern (16-8) jumped to its early lead and held that for better parts of the opening 20 minutes, taking a 46-38 lead to the locker room at halftime.

“I wish we could have pulled this one out — we had opportunities,” Legans said. “We missed on some things, and Kansas made plays when we didn’t.”

In the other locker, coach Bill Self, who led the Jayhawks to the 2008 national title, apparently lit a fire as his team enjoyed a 55-38 scoring edge in the second half. Marcus Garrett led the Jayhawks with 23 points with David McCormack adding 22.

Kansas was pummeled by Pac-12 USC 85-51 in a meeting with the West bracket’s No. 6 seed on March 22 and finished 21-9.

Eastern was making its third NCAA Tournament appearance, and is now 0-3 in opening round games. The first came under head coach Ray Giacoletti on March 19, 2004, when the Eagles fell to No. 3-ranked and No. 2-seeded Oklahoma State 75-56 in Kansas City, Mo. Eastern returned 14 years later under head coach Jim Hayford, and fell to  No. 22/No. 4 seed Georgetown 84-74 in Portland, Ore., on March 19, 2015.

Big Sky schools now have lost 13 consecutive opening round games in the tournament.

Paul Delaney is a retired former Free Press Publishing reporter and can be reached at [email protected].


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