NCAA tournament 2014: Kansas avoids early exit, holds off Eastern Kentucky


Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins dunks the ball during an 80-69 win against Eastern Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

For about a three-hour span, it appeared as if Friday wasn’t the best time for a NCAA tournament team to have a top freshman on its roster. But unlike Jabari Parker and his Duke teammates, Andrew Wiggins helped ensure that Kansas escaped a massive first-round upset, holding off Eastern Kentucky for an 80-69 win.

Just hours earlier, Parker’s first tournament game ended in disaster as No. 14 seed Mercer knocked off the Blue Devils. And when Eastern Kentucky’s Jeff Johnson drained a three-pointer to put the Colonels up 56-53 with about nine minutes to play, it appeared Wiggins was headed for the same fate. But Jamari Traylor scored seven points during a 9-0 run to push Kansas back ahead while Wiggins scored a team-high 19 points to set up the Jayhawks’ second-round matchup with Stanford on Sunday.

Entering the season, hype and projections swirled around Parker and Wiggins, who stood as the early favorite following his strong showing of skill and athleticism in high school. But Parker soon surged to the top of many NBA Draft boards with averages of 19.3 points and 8.8 rebounds, good enough for ACC Freshman of the year honors.

The assumption is that both would depart for the NBA following this season, with Wiggins telling ESPN before the season that one of his goals was “being able to enjoy my last year of school.” But in the emotional aftermath of Duke’s loss to Mercer on Friday, Parker casted doubt on any plans to jump to the pros.

Of course, it’s nothing new for players to say things in the heat of a loss before reversing course after having more time to sift through their NBA prospects. On the other hand, others like Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and former Ohio State star Jared Sullinger have elected to stay another year despite their lofty professional outlook. Stay tuned….

 

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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