KANSAS CITY, MO. It took about 10 minutes for Kansas guards Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to slow down, gain their composure and get everything under control in their Midwest Regional semifinal.
When that happened, everything promptly sped up for Purdue.
The pace of the game turning in their favor, the high-flying Jayhawks proceeded to wear down the bigger, stronger Boilermakers on Thursday night. And by the time Mason and Graham finished pouring in 26 points apiece, No. 1 seed Kansas had coasted to a 98-66 victory and a spot in the Elite Eight.
“When we started to slow down and play our style of basketball, that’s when we started rolling,” said Mason, the player of the year front-runner, who also had seven rebounds and seven assists.
The Jayhawks will play No. 3 seed Oregon, which survived a nail-biter earlier in the night, on Saturday night for a spot in their first Final Four since 2012.
Josh Jackson added 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Landen Lucas did a good job of keeping Purdue forwards Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas in check, as the Jayhawks (31-4) turned a seven-point halftime lead into their third consecutive blowout in the NCAA Tournament.
Their beat-down of the Big Ten champs followed easy wins over UC Davis and Michigan State.
“You just cannot let them get in transition like that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “If they keep getting those types of opportunities and shoot like that, they can’t be stopped.”
Swanigan still had 18 points and seven boards for the No. 4 seed Boilermakers (27-8), but the 6-foot-9, 250-pound All-America candidate had to work for all of it. The Jayhawks kept collapsing on him in the post, forcing Swanigan to begin taking 3-pointers early in the second half.
It wasn’t much longer before the game was out of reach.
“It was one of the best games we’ve played all year,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The second half was about as complete as we played. We were pretty good at both ends.”
The game shaped up as a contrast of styles: the slick, speedy athleticism that carried the Jayhawks to the Big 12 title against the bruising, post-dominated play of the Boilermakers.
Purdue promptly stunned a sold-out Sprint Center by hoisting up early 3-pointers.
Their underrated guards took advantage of constant double-teams of Swanigan and Haas in the paint, letting loose a barrage of deep shots. By the time Kansas realized the game had started, Painter’s team had raced to a 25-18 lead midway through the first half.
The Jayhawks eventually found their footing, and the crowd that showed up a mere 40-minute drive from their campus in Lawrence provided the soundtrack to a 22-7 run to end the half.
Things got so loud inside the downtown arena that Painter, who always maintained Kansas earned the right to the quasi-home game, resorted to scribbling offensive sets on a dry erase board.
“It was unbelievable,” Graham said. “They gave us so much momentum and energy.”
The roars for Kansas only got louder in the second half.
Ryan Cline’s 3-pointer got Purdue within 58-54 with 14:39 to go, and that’s when the Jayhawks ripped off a game-defining 11-0 run. Mason started and ended it, but it was Lagerald Vick’s acrobatic 360-degree dunk in transition that brought a roar that shook the playing floor.
When Mason knocked down his fourth 3, the lead had grown to 69-54 with 10 minutes left — and it just kept growing. It soon reached 20, then 30, as the Jayhawks began to party.
“It’s basically our backyard,” Graham said, “and we’re just thankful we had the opportunity to play here. We took advantage of it.”
STATS AND STREAKS
Kansas is the first team since UConn in 1995 to score at least 90 points each of its first three games. ... The Jayhawks were 15 of 28 from beyond the arc, setting a school record for makes in an NCAA Tournament game. ... Purdue is 1-3 against the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament. ... Kansas had lost its last three games against teams seeded fourth or better.
Asked whether he plans to turn pro, Swanigan replied: “I haven’t thought about it.” The sophomore went on to say he doesn’t have a timetable to make a decision after emerging as a potential first-round NBA draft pick during his breakout season with the Boilermakers.
Purdue got 12 points from P.J. Thompson and 11 from Haas, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Vincent Edwards was held to eight points after big games against Vermont and Iowa State, while Carsen Edwards had six points on 1-for-10 shooting. He was 0 for 5 from beyond the arc.
Kansas was so far ahead that Self was able to empty his bench, a rarity for a regional semifinal. That meant his son, Tyler Self, was able to check in for the final couple of minutes, just as chants of “Rock, Chalk!” began to ring out through Sprint Center.
The Jayhawks play the Ducks on Saturday for a spot in Glendale, Arizona.