Kansas stared down the barrel of an upset loss to No. 14 seed Eastern Washington in a first round NCAA Tournament game on Saturday before the shorthanded Jayhawks found a way to rally for an 93-84 win over the Eagles. EWU led 9-0 in the opening minutes and had a 10-point lead early in the second half, but No. 3 seed Kansas put its resiliency on display while advancing to play Monday in the second round.
After issues with COVID-19 forced Kansas to dip out of the Big 12 Tournament last week, the Jayhawks were without starting forward Jalen Wilson, the team's leading rebounder, on Saturday, and reserve forward Tristan Enraruna was missing as well. That put the onus on center David McCormack to carry the Jayhawks in the post against Eastern Washington's high-scoring duo of brothers Tanner Groves and Jacob Groves.
The Groves' dominated the first half by scoring 32 combined points as the Eagles took a 46-38 lead into the break. But McCormack, who was expected to be on a minutes restriction amid his return from COVID-19, dominated the second half. The 6-foot-10 junior racked up all but two of his team-high 22 points after halftime and finished with nine rebounds to fuel the Kansas rally.
Kansas lacks the star power it boasted last year with Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike, but the Jayhawks have won nine of their past 10 games and shouldn't be disregarded as a threat in the West Region. The Jayhawks will play the winner of Saturday's nightcap between No. 10 seed VCU and No. 7 seed Oregon.
Tanner Groves finished with a career-high 35 points and Jacob Groves scored a career-high 23 for Eastern Washington.