PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Bill Self couldn’t wait to get started in the Battle of 4 Atlantis on Wednesday. Not even Kansas freshman Gradey Dick could do it.
Dick scored a season-high 25 points to help the third-seeded Jayhawks beat North Carolina State 80-74 in Wednesday’s tournament opener, giving Self a successful return to the bench after a four-game suspension.
Dick had 18 on six 3-pointers in the first half before going 1-for-8 from the field after halftime. Jalen Wilson added 19 points and 11 rebounds for the reigning national champion Jayhawks (5-0), who blew an eight-point halftime lead and a nine-point lead in the second halftime before he skated it off.
“I think it really just showed what our team is all about and in crunch time we can make tough plays when we really need to,” Dick said.
It also helped, Dick said, “to have a Hall of Famer in our corner again.”
Kansas suspended Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend as part of fallout from an ongoing NCAA violation case linked to a federal sports corruption investigation.
Self was allowed to coach practices, so he remained with the team. But on game days, he said, he got a dose of the fan’s helpless stare while assistant Norm Roberts led the team. He said he couldn’t even take notes until he watched the match.
He was ready for Wednesday right from the 7am alarm clock.
“I don’t usually jump out of bed,” Self said, “but today I kind of did because I was excited about what was going to happen.”
As he emerged from the tunnel, Self was greeted with loud cheers from the raucous Kansas fan section. He smiled slightly as one fan dangled a Jayhawks national title banner as he walked by and fired high-fives at a line of about half a dozen fans who stretched their arms over the railing.
Casey Morsell scored 21 points to lead the Wolfpack (4-1), while Terquavion Smith added 19 points.
This was NC State’s first appearance in Atlantis since 2017 at the start of Kevin Keatts’ coaching tenure. That team opened with a loss to No. 2 Arizona, and this year’s bunch gave Kansas fits until the final minutes.
“We missed a couple of free throws, I thought they got in transition,” Keatts said. “We had a couple of mistakes that when you’re playing for one or two possessions, everything is important.
THE BIG PICTURE
NC State: The Wolfpack program has also been caught up in an FBI investigation into the sport involving recruiting violations involving top freshman Dennis Smith Jr. under former coach Mark Gottfried. That case hung throughout Keatts’ tenure until the December resolution. Now, Keatts has filled his roster with a style closer to his vision: play fast and catch the whole court even against a marquee program.
“I don’t know speed-wise if there’s anybody we’re going to play against that’s as fast as,” Backcourt Smith and Jarkel Joiner, Self said, adding, “We’re athletic, pretty athletic — but we’re not jet-setting fast. So we had to be pretty well shot to stay ahead of them.”
Kansas: 6-foot-8 Dick is well on his way. He averaged 16.8 points while shooting 10-of-20 from 3-point range before surpassing his (brief) season-high 23 points in the opener against Omaha.
Dick’s sixth 3-pointer for a 39-31 lead came before the halftime corner, and thanks to light contact from Morsell, Dick fell to the floor. He rose with an emphatic shout and applauded, while Morsell could only respond with a frustrated shrug.
But NC State responded with an 8-0 burst, with Morsell hitting a 3 on a breakaway and another on a stepback to tie it.
The Wolfpack never led after halftime, but tied it five times, the last at 63 — all on Jack Clark’s jumper with 7:14 left.
NC State: The Wolfpack will face Wisconsin-Dayton losers in Thursday’s consolation bracket.
Kansas: The Jayhawks advanced to Thursday’s semifinals to face the winner of Wisconsin-Dayton.
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