David McCormack returned from his COVID-19-caused hiatus just in time to rescue No. 3 seed Kansas.
One day after rejoining the Jayhawks in Indianapolis, the bruising big man piled up 22 points and nine rebounds, helping slow-starting Kansas rally from a 10-point second-half deficit and beat No. 14 seed Eastern Washington 93-84 on Saturday to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Ochai Agbaji scored 21 points, Marcus Garrett fought foul trouble to add 20 and Dajuan Harris Jr. had 13 for the Jayhawks (21-8), who advanced to play sixth-seeded Southern California or No. 11 seed Drake for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Tanner Groves scored a career-high 35 points and younger brother Jacob Groves had 23 for the Eagles (16-8), whose third trip to the NCAA Tournament ended just as quickly as the first two – though not without putting up a fight.
The aptly named “Groves Bros” got Eastern Washington off to a flying start. The pair of All-Big Sky forwards combined to score the first nine points of the game and forced Jayhawks coach Bill Self to burn through early timeouts.
Kansas settled down and put together a 17-5 run and suddenly looked again like the big boys out of the Big 12. But Shantay Legans’ motley crew of underrated and overlooked sharp-shooters finished the half on a 24-10 charge.
The Groves kids were at it again. They combined for 3-pointers on three straight trips down floor, then Tyler Robertson added a fourth from the top of the key to give Eastern Washington a 46-38 lead headed into the locker room.
Compounding problems for Kansas: Garrett, one of the nation’s best defenders, picked up his third foul before the break.
Self turned to McCormack to bail the Jayhawks out. Even though he was only expected to play about 10 minutes a half after his bout with COVID-19, the big guy went to work in the paint as if he hadn’t missed a day. He scored their first eight points of the second half, trying to keep Kansas alive until his teammates could find their shots.
They finally did midway through the second half.
Still trailing 63-59, Agbaji threw down a dunk in transition to begin a game-changing 14-3 run. Seldom-used Harris drained back-to-back 3-pointers, McCormack added back-to-back buckets inside, and Garrett – who is hardly known for his outside shooting – hit the first of his three second-half 3s as the Jayhawks took a 73-66 lead.
McCormack, who tested positive for the coronavirus before last week’s Big 12 Tournament, continued to score in the post down the stretch, helping the Jayhawks avoid the same fate that befell top-four seed Ohio State and Purdue on Friday.
Groves’ 35 points are the second most by a Big Sky player in an NCAA Tournament game. Harold Arceneaux had 36 for Weber State when it upset North Carolina in 1999. — Staff and wire reports
March Madness / YouTube
18:00 – EWU 9, Kansas 0: Dream start for the Eagles as Kansas has missed its first four shot attempts while EWU has made its first four.
Jacob Groves has seven points to lead Eastern. Brother Tanner has two points.
Kansas is 0-of-2 from 3-point range, twice settling for contested 3s early in the shot clock.
15:44 – EWU 14, Kansas 9: The Jayhawks score on four straight possessions to trim the Eastern lead to 5 at the first media timeout.
Jacob Groves continues to lead EWU with seven points. Tanner Groves has five points and Kim Aiken Jr. has two.
Dajuan Harris leads Kansas with three points.
Eastern is shooting 75%. Kansas has made its last three shot attempts and is now 3 of 7 from the field.
14:08 – Kansas 16, EWU 15: The Jayhawks use a 12-3 run to take the lead and force the Eagles into taking their first timeout.
Marcus Garrett has seven points to pace KU. Kansas has made six of its last seven shot attempts.
10:35 – Kansas 20, EWU 17: The Jayhawks have upped the defensive intensity and lead the Eags by 3 at the under-12 media timeout.
KU has forced four EWU turnovers.
Jacob Groves leads Eastern with seven points.
Marcus Garrett also has seven points to lead Kansas.
7:45 – Kansas 26, EWU 22: The Eagles continue to stick with the Jayhawks behind strong play from Tanner Groves and some solid interior shooting.
Eastern is shooting 53.3% but has made just 1 of 6 3-point attempts.
Groves leads EWU with eight points.
Marcus Garrett leads Kansas with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
2:38 – EWU 41, Kansas 33: The Groves Bros. have caught fire and the Eagles surge into the lead.
Tanner and Jacob Groves have made their last five 3-point attempts and EWU has gone on a 19-5 over the last five minutes.
Jacob Groves has 16 points to lead EWU. Tanner Groves has 14 points.
Kansas is lead by Marcus Garrett’s 12 points.
EWU 46, Kansas 38: Tanner Groves and Jacob Groves each have 16 points and the 14th-seeded Eagles lead the No. 3 seed Jayhawks by 8 at the break.
Eastern is shooting 53.3% and is 7 of 14 from 3-point range. The Eagles connected on six straight 3s during a 22-7 run late in the half.
Marcus Garrett has 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting to lead the Jayhawks.
Kansas is shooting 42.9% and is 5 of 17 from 3. KU star forward David McCormack has come off the bench to score just two points.
The Eagles jumped out to a 9-0 lead behind seven points from Jacob Groves. KU responded with a with a 16-6 run of its own to take the lead. The Jayhawks built the lead to as large as 7 with 9:14 left. Kansas led 28-22 before EWU went on its big run to close the half.
Jacob Groves is 6-of-8 shooting and 3 of 4 from 3. He has a game-high five rebounds. Brother Tanner Groves is 5 of 7 from the field and 3 of 5 from 3.
Tyler Robertson has scored five points, Michael Meadows has four points and Jacob Davison has three for EWU.
15:06 – EWU 56, Kansas 49: Tanner Groves has 22 points and EWU continues to lead the Jayhawks.
Groves has eight points in the first five minutes of the half. The senior center is 7-of-11 shooting.
Kansas forward David McCormack has been battling inside with Big Sky Player of the Year. McCormack also has eight points in the half. He now has 10 points and a game-high six rebounds.
11:39 – EWU 61, Kansas 57: Both teams shooting has cooled after the quick start to the half, but the Eagles still lead the No. 3 seed Jayhawks.
Tanner Groves has a game-high 27 points to pace Eastern. He has 11 points this half.
Marcus Garrett leads Kansas with 14 points. Ochai Agbaji has 12 points but is 2 of 8 from 3-point range.
Eastern has come up empty on its last three possessions.
7:45 – Kansas 73, EWU 66: The Jayhawks burst into the lead after a 14-3 run over the last 3 minutes.
Marcus Garrett leads KU with 17 points. Forward David McCormack has powered his way to 12 points in the half.
Tanner Groves has a career-high 32 points to lead the Eagles.
Eastern missed 3-pointers on its last two possessions.
3:26 – Kansas 85, EWU 73: The Jayhawks open up their biggest lead of the game after a David McCormack and-1 triggers the under-4 media timeout.
EWU has had a poor shooting half going just 2 of 9 from 3-point range.
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