KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Joel Embiid had just picked up his second foul, and like so many other games this season, he knew he was going to be spending the rest of the first half sitting on the Kansas bench.
The 7-foot freshman vowed to make up for it in the second half.
Embiid scored 16 of his career-high 18 points over the final 20 minutes, leading the No. 13 Jayhawks to an 80-63 victory over New Mexico on Saturday night that ended a two-game skid.
“I was frustrated, even though I didn’t think the second one was a foul,” said Embiid, a native of Cameroon who’s only been playing basketball for a few years. “Yeah, I wanted it bad, and they wanted to throw me the ball and let me score, and that’s what I needed to do.”
Perry Ellis scored 21 points and Andrew Wiggins, despite dealing with foul trouble all night, added 11 for the Jayhawks (7-3), who led 39-38 at halftime before using two big runs to put it away.
It was the Jayhawks’ ninth straight win at the Sprint Center, including their run to last year’s Big 12 tournament title. After dropping games at Colorado and Florida, the win also kept Kansas from losing three straight non-conference games for the first time since the 1982-83 season.
“We knew we had to hit them first,” said the Jayhawks’ Wayne Selden, who finished with 10 points. “That was our main goal, be the first one on the floor and be the most aggressive.”
Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams had 24 points apiece for New Mexico (7-2), but that was about it for the Lobos. Alex Kirk, who came into the game averaging 18.6 points, was held to just five on 2-for-8 shooting before fouling out with 2:53 remaining in the game.
New Mexico was just 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.
“We played really well in the first half, but I thought Kansas played really good. I thought that was the best offensive game Kansas has played all year,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said. “We got into some foul trouble and did some things we weren’t used to doing, and we have to improve on that.”
The Jayhawks likewise struggled with foul trouble in the first half, depriving coach Bill Self of Ellis, Embiid and Jamari Traylor for long periods of time. That allowed the 6-foot-9 Bairstow to go to work inside, scoring on an array of putbacks and spin moves.
The senior from Brisbane, Australia, had 16 points at the break.
“We wanted to put them in a position to really feel pressure,” Bairstow said.
The Lobos got within one at halftime on a buzzer-beating basket by Arthur Edwards, but Kansas quickly seized control with a 16-4 run to start the second half.
Embiid had nine points and Ellis the other seven during the spurt, but it was really fueled by the Jayhawks’ defense, which finally slowed down Bairstow and Williams on the other end.
The Lobos chipped away at their 55-42 deficit, most of the surge coming from the foul line. By the time Williams converted a four-point play, New Mexico had managed to scrap and claw to 63-58 with 8:03 left, and briefly silence a crowd heavily in favor of Kansas.
That’s when the Jayhawks turned to Ellis and Embiid again.
Embiid answered Williams with a pair of foul shots, Ellis added a free throw moments later, and Embiid threw down a dunk as the crowd roared. Ellis added a dunk of his own moments later, forcing New Mexico to burn a timeout that didn’t do a whole lot of good.
“Our bigs were really good,” Self said. “Perry was the most consistent one and he scored the most points, but there was a stretch in the second half where Joel looked pretty good.”
Williams missed after the timeout and Embiid scored again at the other end, pushing the Jayhawks’ lead to 74-59 with 4½ minutes remaining in the game.
“We felt really good after halftime, really fought them off. It really boiled down to their second-half run,” Williams said. “That was really the story.”
Kansas merely coasted from there, wrapping up the victory in the first meeting between the schools since the 1964-65 season and ending nearly a month spent playing games away from Allen Fieldhouse.
“We came out a lackadaisical to start the second half and they took advantage of it,” Neal said. “Kansas came out really aggressive in the second half and that cost us.”
At Kansas City, Mo.
No. 13 Kansas 80, New Mexico 63
NEW MEXICO (7-2)
Bairstow 7-15 10-12 24, Kirk 2-8 1-2 5, Thomas 0-3 2-2 2, Greenwood 0-1 0-0 0, K. Williams 7-13 8-9 24, Edwards 1-2 0-0 2, Aget 0-1 0-0 0, Neal 1-7 2-2 4, Banyard 0-2 2-2 2, Delaney 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-54 25-29 63.
Ellis 9-14 2-4 21, Embiid 5-6 8-10 18, Selden, Jr. 4-7 1-2 10, Tharpe 3-8 0-0 8, Wiggins 3-11 5-6 11, Mason 0-1 0-0 0, Wesley 0-0 1-2 1, Greene 2-5 0-0 5, Black 0-0 0-0 0, Traylor 1-1 2-2 4, Lucas 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-54 19-26 80.
Halftime—Kansas 39-38. Three-point goals—New Mexico 2-14 (K. Williams 2-5, Banyard 0-1, Delaney 0-1, Thomas 0-2, Neal 0-2, Kirk 0-3), Kansas 5-14 (Tharpe 2-5, Ellis 1-2, Selden, Jr. 1-2, Greene 1-3, Wiggins 0-2). Fouled out—Kirk. Rebounds—New Mexico 30 (Bairstow 6), Kansas 36 (Ellis 9). Assists—New Mexico 8 (K. Williams 2), Kansas 19 (Tharpe 9). Total fouls—New Mexico 21, Kansas 23.